One such company of brothers. Trowels turned into rifles
They’re good with maps, they can dig, and they’re already tranching. They also operate drones. In their scientific work, they used them to take photos of archaeological sites or to look for differences in the vegetation that may indicate the existence of underground objects. Now they are watching Russian positions and directing artillery fire. Though they might not be there. According to the policy of the authorities, scientists with a PhD are not required to wear gaiters.
This is the story of the archeology of war. About scientists who fight on the front line. Who digging trenches find… Greek amphorae. Who fight against the plunder of war, which the Russians call “heritage protection”. Aleksander Przybylski writes about the gratitude of Ukrainians for bubble wrap and fleece sent from Poland. And about why Russian Defense Minister Sergei Kuzhegietovich Shoigu “disguises himself” as a Scythian warrior in full lamellar armor.
It is early March and the Russian mechanized brigades are taking up positions north of Kiev. Capital Ukraine is at risk. Meanwhile, in Poznań, more than a thousand kilometers away, excavations are underway to sell off the renovation of the Old Market Square. Suddenly, one of the archaeologists pulls his phone out of his pocket because the communicator beeped. There is also a juicy, disbelieving curse. You can see the uploaded photo on the smartphone screen. Trenches, a wooden crate and a bright blue bag filled with rifle ammunition. On the bag there is a Polish inscription “Fashion for Monuments” and the logo of the National Heritage Board. War is a total phenomenon, so it also affects Ukrainian archaeologists, who exchanged trowels for rifles. Those who do not fight on the front line try to save monuments methodically destroyed and plundered by the Russians. Fortunately, they can count on the help of Polish colleagues.
From the academy to the front
A photo with a bag full of ammunition was sent by doctor Oleksandr Shelekhan, an employee of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine who studies the history of the Scythians. He has many friends in Poznań, whom he met when he was in Poland on a scholarship. On the occasion of some conference he got a bag promoting the “Fashion for monuments” campaign and when the war broke out he made combat use of it. And by the way, he showed evidence of a black sense of humor. I’m talking to Shelekhan via communicator. The archaeologist has set a profile picture on it, which makes me smile involuntarily. This is Jeż Jerzy, a feisty comic book character well established in Polish pop culture. Shelekhan fought with a gun in his hand in 2014 in one of the volunteer units. A year ago, he took up the rifle again and is still serving in the 224th Home Defense Battalion. He prepared the defense of Kiev, was in the liberation of Kharkov, and now he is doing reconnaissance. And for obvious reasons, he does not want to go into the details of his ministry.
– According to my knowledge, there are currently over 40 Ukrainian archaeologists under arms, and even more involved in various forms of volunteer work. Is that a lot? Shelekhan asks rhetorically. – The Ukrainian Armed Forces is a great organism that represents a cross-section of the entire society, so there are also archaeologists who want to defend their country – says the scientist, but does not add that if he wanted to, he could avoid serving in the army. As a rule, young scientists with a doctoral degree are not enlisted in gaiters. This is a conscious policy of the Ukrainian authorities, who want to protect the small number of scientists from what is inevitable in war.
– In early February, during the Battle of Kreminna, Andriy Fylypchuk, who dealt with the early Middle Ages, was killed. Despite his young age in civilian life, he was the deputy director of the archaeological reserve and settlement in Pilzensk. At least some colleagues were injured. Some have already returned to the front, others are permanently maimed – says Szełechan.
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