KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Under the plaintive tinted eyes of the holy, a UN-backed volunteer team of two engineers took a million measurements per second as a whirring laser inside Kiev’s All Saints Church.
The laser quickly swept across the entire church, part of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, taking a series of incredibly high-resolution photographs.
Those images will be stitched together with navigational data to create a complete three-dimensional rendering of the holy site, part of a project to protect and preserve historic places across Ukraine amid Russia’s war on the country as much as its people. is in danger.
“This is an important moment,” said Chiara Daisy Bardeschi, who oversees Ukraine for the UN cultural agency UNESCO.
Since Russia started the war in February 2022, at least 259 cultural and historical sites have been damaged by the fighting, according to UNESCO. These include religious places, museums, monuments and libraries. It is common to see statues across the country surrounded by sandbags or scaffolding to protect them from airstrikes or other attacks.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is pouring money and donations from Western countries back into its military as it tries to retake more territory as months of summer fighting begin. This leaves little money for the preservation of its historic sites, which have already suffered cycles of destruction from Tsarist Russia, the Nazis during World War II, and the Soviet Union decades later.
That’s where the work of Emmanuel Durand, a French engineer based in Geneva, and Serhiy Ravenko, a Ukrainian architect, who took 3D models of other sites during the war, comes into play. In more recent times, two people volunteering through UNESCO worked on the All Saints Church built between 1696 and 1698 in the Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Caves.
The men used a donated instrument called the Zoller & Fröhlich Imager 5010X, which consists of two rectangular boxes attached to a high-resolution, fast-spinning camera in the center. The total cost of the imager, as well as the necessary software and accessories, is approximately $70,000.
The two held the imager atop a tripod, then slid away from it as the instrument measured heights below the golden domes of churches.
The camera then came alive, moving around to capture the interior so closely that even the texture of the brushstroke would be recorded.
Durand said, “If the church is bombed next week or next month because of the war, it will certainly be terrible, but at least we will have this digitization and that will help a lot in rebuilding the church.” ,
That danger is real. Ravenko had previously taken 3D images of the Library of Youth in Chernihiv, about 130 kilometers (80 mi) northeast of Kiev. The library, which opened in 1902 in a Gothic Revival-style building with pointed arches, was targeted by a Russian air raid on March 11, 2022.
The 3D image shows a large hole ripped into the side of the building, with debris scattered everywhere. It also shows the depth and power of the bombs dropped on the site. This can be important to historians—as well as prosecutors or investigators—who may want to see such scenes later, after any repairs.
“It is important to preserve because what the enemy and the Russians are trying to destroy is who we are and what our identity is,” said Revenko. “Our identity is really the heritage and culture that we can preserve and pass on to the next generation.”
The men began their work at All Saints Church because of its relative safety during the war. The gates of the Lavra bear the blue shield emblem of the Hague Convention of 1954, in principle giving the site the protection of international law.
But the site on a hill above the Dnieper River is only a few kilometers (a mile) from the Presidency of Ukraine and other buildings in Kiev that could be targets for Moscow. In recent weeks, Kiev has been hit by repeated missile and drone attacks by Russia, increasing the risk of damage from strikes or falling debris.
Russia’s embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment about its targeting practices with respect to historical sites.
Durand and Ravenko traveled to the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, which is much closer to the front lines, to make images of other cultural sites.
“As an architect, it’s really like rediscovering your country and rediscovering your culture,” said Revenko, pointing to artifacts within All Saints’ Church.
For Durand, who volunteered at the 2020 Beirut port explosion and the recent Turkey earthquake, doing 3D scanning in Ukraine gives her an opportunity to put her talents to use when people are in need.
“I’m not a doctor. I can’t go to Kherson or places and heal people. That’s not my skill,” Durand said. “I’m not a good cook. I can’t deliver food, but I am an engineer. I have these 3D skills and other structural assessment skills that I deliver.”
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John Gambrel, The Associated Press