The United Nations cultural organization is training law enforcement and judiciary officials from countries on Ukraine’s western borders, seeking to prevent the trafficking of looted cultural objects from Ukraine amid Russia’s war against its neighbor.
UNESCO partnered with Poland’s Culture Ministry to hold three days of workshops in Warsaw this week for the officials from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova. Representatives from Ukraine also attended the training that began in late January.
The aim was for the officials to be able to identify and prevent any artistic treasures looted in Ukraine from crossing their borders.
Krista Pikkat, UNESCO’s director of culture and emergencies, said that more than 230 cultural sites have been damaged or destroyed in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country.
She said that UNESCO is working to document lost cultural objects, among them treasures from museums and archaeological sites.
Another priority for the agency is making sure that the wider public is aware that looted Ukrainian treasures could end up on art markets in Europe, so that buyers are more careful about what they buy.
Pikkat described Poland as a strong partner for UNESCO in the protection of cultural heritage in situations of conflict because it has learned many lessons from its own experiences.
Poland suffered mass looting of its cultural heritage during World War II, when it was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It is still working to recover looted paintings, books and other cultural artifacts. These objects still come up for sale at auctions and on the internet eight decades after they were stolen.
“Poland is really a country at the forefront of this work,” Pikkat said.
Katarzyna Zalasińska, the director of the Polish National Institute for Cultural Heritage, noted that Poland lost at least 500,000 works of art during World War II.