After two years of fighting, the war in Ukraine is destroying the country’s cultural heritage on a scale not seen since World War II, according to a new study.

Ian Kuijt and William Donaruma from the University of Notre Dame visited Ukraine to see firsthand and begin to document the extent of the damage to cultural sites including churches, schools, opera houses, libraries, and archaeological sites.

Their report, the first ground-based survey of the region since the invasion, is published in the journal Antiquity.

“The intent by the Russians is essentially obliterating Ukrainian culture, heritage, and history,” says Kuijt, a professor in the anthropology department. “They have been targeting cultural features of society that have no military capability, no hardened infrastructures that would be used in defense. And there are many researchers who have started doing work with satellite and aerial photos, but at some point, you have to go into the field to truly get a sense of the damage.”

Kuijt and Donaruma, a professor of the practice in the film, television, and theatre department, visited liberated areas in Ukraine to assess, film, and document the cultural heritage destruction. Their interdisciplinary collaboration allowed Kuijt, an archaeologist, and Donaruma, a narrative and documentary filmmaker, to provide a more holistic view of the conditions in Ukraine’s built environment.

Walking through the ruins, Kuijt says, revealed more widespread and far more extensive damage than the team anticipated. They also found that the devastation not only exists above ground from missile strikes, but also extends below the surface due to the widespread trench systems used by military forces.

The researchers mapped out the substantial damage incurred by churches and historic buildings from as early as the 11th and 12th centuries. Architectural monuments and UNESCO-listed heritage sites—even those that have appeared fairly intact in satellite imagery—have also suffered.

“Beyond the destruction and damage, particularly in populated, civilian areas, we were astonished to see the amount of preparation and defense of cultural heritage sites and objects,” Donaruma says. “Large sheets of metal covered stained-glass windows. Fortified cages covered statues, and museums were boxing artifacts for storage.”

Read the full article about Ukraine war by Tracy Destazio at Futurity.