Amid the continued conflict with Russia, Ukraine is moving to digitally preserve its national landmarks in case of potential damage or destruction. Crowdsourced Polycam scans are helping to build detailed renderings for future restorations.
Crowdsourced material is becoming increasingly important for Ukrainians amid Russia’s invasion.
Some of those who’ve remained within conflict areas, whether by choice or force, have been documenting events on a daily basis in the hope that the Russian military will face recriminations. Volunteers plan to bring digital dossiers of alleged war crimes to the International Criminal Court once the gunfire ceases.
This isn’t the full extent of Ukraine’s crowdsourcing efforts though. Following the recent destruction of a Mariupol art museum containing some 2,000 exhibits, the nation’s people are now moving to preserve important symbols of their culture and history.
An initiative called ‘Backup Ukraine’ has been launched by Blue Shield Denmark and the Danish UNESCO National Commission, which aims to mobilise civilian action to preserve buildings and heritage monuments that cannot be moved elsewhere.
Some citizens have physically covered statues with sandbags and packaging materials, but there is a way of contributing that is far more valuable. An app called Polycam, originally created by Virtue — Vice’s in-house creative agency — has been repurposed to record and store 3D renderings of landmarks.
The more videos recorded through the app, the more detailed the digital renderings become. The thinking is that if the worst case scenario does come to pass, and heritage sites are damaged or destroyed, accurate digital replicas could help aid in their reconstruction.
Using polymetric scanning, smartphone cameras are able to accurately map out the intricate nooks and crannies of these objects in high definition. With larger areas or buildings, LIDAR technology is incredibly useful, and tutorials have been released offering assistance on how to achieve the best results.
‘The idea came out of genuine terror of what would happen if Putin succeeded in wiping out the material basis of their [Ukraine’s] history,’ reveals Tao Thomsen, creative director of innovation at Virtue.
Elsewhere, Danish UNESCO commissioner Elsebeth Gerner Nilsen has described ‘innovative technologies’ like Polycam as ‘a very welcome assistance.’ ‘War claims more than lives, it can cost a country irreversible damage to its national spirit,’ she says.
It has to be stated that, obviously, Backup Ukraine isn’t recommending that civilians put themselves in physical danger to capture digital renderings without guidance.
There are volunteer corps coordinated from the Ukrainian Heritage Emergency Rescue Initiative that target areas not in immediate danger of conflict. This official body will also ensure that recordings don’t inadvertently reveal the position of Ukrainian defences or communications.
As it stands, at least 39 landmarks throughout the country have been damaged, looted, or reduced to ruins according to the Transatlantic Dialogue Center. Cultural authorities assert that Putin is directly gunning for Ukraine’s heritage, history, and ultimately its identity as an independent state.
If such damage can be proven as targeted, and not collateral, then we’re again looking at punishable war crimes under international law.