opinion | The Internet is the key to saving Ukraine’s history

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The Library of Alexandria in Egypt was not once destroyed but at least three times – the first time by accident, the last time on purpose. The loss of the greatest body of knowledge in antiquity is perhaps the most famous example of culture as a casualty of war, but the phenomenon persists. Luckily for Ukraine, one thing is different today: the Internet exists.

Archivists and librarians around the world have worked to catalogue Thousands of websites containing parts of Ukraine’s past and present, from strategy papers and census data stores to poetry museums to a Soviet-era club that teaches children how to run railroads. At the helm is a team of 1,300 volunteers known as voice actors Online storage of Ukrainian cultural heritage, which is estimated to have saved more than 3,500 pages to date. Others elsewhere are also getting involved. Threats to these resources range from bombs destroying servers to cyberattacks crippling them. There is also a risk of self-censorship by those who fear becoming targets, and that should the invasion lead to the fall of the government in Kyiv, a new regime could erase any bits of Ukraine’s past that don’t align with Russia’s distorted narratives.

This last point explains why the work to save physical and virtual history alike is so important in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears determined not only to defeat the nation, but to deny that it is a nation at all. The materials, which the archivists comb from the Internet, represent exactly the Ukrainian heritage, which he claims does not exist. The parts of Ukraine’s history that concern the Soviet Union also need to be preserved: see for example a website accessible to researchers KGB recordswhich the SUCHO archivists downloaded just in case, just a few days before the site became inaccessible.

All of this was made possible in the digital age. According to Quinn Dombrowski, organizer and specialist in academic technology at Stanford University, the international squad of participants could hardly fly all of them to Kyiv and smuggle valuable artifacts and documents safely out of the country. She and her cohorts took inspiration from it Efforts after Donald Trump’s 2016 election to preserve scientific information about climate change that is published on US government websites – which of course disappeared shortly after the inauguration. These events are a reminder of how malleable the internet is and how enduring it can be as long as people take the right steps to protect it.

These steps do not have to be a scramble when the war has already begun. Ms Dombrowski likens her group’s work to photos from the early days of the war showing Ukrainian citizens preparing Molotov cocktails from beer bottles and hand sanitizer: “It’s a love story, but it speaks to the failure of the infrastructure.” By introducing the possibility To secure information before bombs drop or earthquakes hit, the internet has given the world a tool to make history a little safer. Governments, universities and other institutions should start using it.

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