Backup Ukraine: 3D scans preserve cultural monuments digitally
A scanning app creates detailed 3D models of Ukrainian cultural monuments to preserve them beyond the war.
The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine is destroying hundreds of landmarks, cultural sites and monuments. These cultural monuments, as well as residential buildings, parks, playgrounds and other objects, are therefore scanned by civilians using their smartphones via the Polycam app as part of the “Backup Ukraine” project.
The software creates a detailed 3D model from the scans, which is permanently stored in a digital archive as part of this initiative.
High-quality scans for educational and reconstruction purposes
The project was launched shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine to preserve the country’s cultural heritage and document it with augmented reality. The scans are intended to be of high quality so that they can be projected into a physical space and explored, but also serve for reconstruction purposes.
More than 150 volunteers have participated in the initiative, scanning up to ten culturally relevant objects per day. In addition, over 6,000 people in Ukraine have downloaded the Polycam app to access the archive.
Backup Ukraine is in regular contact with the Heritage Emergency Rescue Initiative, a Ukrainian initiative of the Ministry of Culture, and is coordinating with 3D scanning industry professionals to scan faster and on a larger scale in the future.
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The attributes of Ukrainian identity such as culture, language, literature, music and architecture are original and inimitable – they must be preserved, says Yuri Shevchuk, a native Ukrainian and professor of Ukrainian language at Columbia University.
The destruction of Ukrainian culture
As of May 27, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture has recorded the destruction of 29 museums, 133 churches, 66 theaters and libraries, and a centuries-old Jewish cemetery. The latter is particularly ironic because Russia likes to justify its brutal attack, which violates international law, with the lie of Ukraine’s “denazification.”
Backup Ukraine is the first time cultural sites have been captured on a large scale using AR technology. As a precedent for protecting cultural assets, this is a potential breakthrough for the technology, says Iain Thomas, creative director at Virtue Worldwide. The hope is that the technology will help other countries affected by conflict or war to scan and digitally record monuments, statues, sculptures, as well as personal items.