BERKELEY (KPIX 5) – With so much of Ukraine in ruins, there are fears that its digital media history and culture could also be destroyed. Therefore, efforts are being made in the Bay Area to save it from ultimate loss.
Sitting in a corner of her Berkeley home, Quinn Dombrowski is surrounded by photos and artwork of her children that she has kept over the years. Now she is doing the same for Ukraine.
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As the Russians invade and leave utter destruction in their wake, they are also destroying the machinery that holds the digital record of the country’s history and the trappings of daily life.
“It’s easy to think it’s always out there and always backed up,” Dombrowski said, “but at the end of the day, the internet is dependent on physical things, it’s dependent on servers, electricity and cables.”
So Dombrowski helped create a group called SUCHO to save Ukraine’s cultural heritage online. It’s an army of 1,300 archivists around the world desperately trying to chronicle Ukrainian websites before they get lost.
Much of Ukrainian culture, from music to art to literature, is stored as digital data, and Dombrowski and her colleagues are trying to save it before it can be wiped out.
“It’s a day-to-day, hourly thing,” she told KPIX 5. “We have people monitoring the airstrike alerts from Ukraine and then quickly re-prioritizing the locations that we still need to do.”
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Much of what they store is sent to the San Francisco Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital repository with massive data servers. They store everything from obscure websites to people’s home videos to old newspapers from the 1960s. But now they have an additional task.
“Let’s start archiving Ukrainian culture at a time when it may be erased from the map,” founder Brewster Kahle told KPIX 5.
Kahle said they not only store material from Ukraine’s past, but also document today’s news, from both Western and Russian perspectives.
“The misinformation and disinformation campaigns currently underway are rampant,” he said. “So this is useful not only for looking back on history, but also for understanding what’s going on now.”
Back at her apartment, Dombrowski chronicled the website of a Ukrainian library, with cheerful images of community events and a children’s Christmas party.
She said capturing and preserving images of everyday life in the countryside has been helpful in alleviating the fear and anger she feels about the war.
“Instead of just scrolling the news, I sort of put all that energy into doing something. And it was really cathartic,” she said.
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Dombrowski said she hopes the effort will never be needed, that the war will end and the country can be rebuilt. Just in case, they keep records so that the memory of Ukraine does not disappear.