Fire extinguishers delivered in Ukraine to protect listed wooden churches

International effort secures 440 water-mist fire extinguishers to protect tserkvas

Potelych-Tserkva of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in Ukraine. Image: Ільницький Віталій (Wikimedia) CC BY-SA 3.0

The Foundation to Preserve Ukraine’s Sacral Arts and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), in partnership with World Monuments Fund (WMF), delivered 440 water-mist fire extinguishers for the protection of historic wooden churches in Ukraine. The country is home to more than 2,500 tserkvas, the largest number in the world. Eight historic wooden churches are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List of Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine.

Wooden churches are often located in remote rural communities and are particularly vulnerable to fire, especially in extreme conflict situations. The project will allow for the protection of up to 200 historic wooden churches in Ukraine, in the most dangerous areas, a joint press release stated. Water-mist fire extinguishers are suitable for the interiors of wooden churches as they atomize the pressurized water into a fine mist, which evaporates, minimizing potential damage to fragile painted surfaces, authentic fabrics, frescoes, icons and iconostases, and other art objects in the interior of churches.

The churches were built out of horizontal wooden logs between the 16th and 19th centuries by communities of Orthodox and Greek Catholic faiths. The tserkvas bear testimony to a distinct building tradition rooted in Orthodox ecclesiastic design interwoven with elements of local tradition, and symbolic references to their communities’ cosmogony.

Interior of the Potelych-Tserkva of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Image: Mal and (Wikimedia) CC BY-SA 3.0

International effort

As part of an international support effort, the water-mist fire extinguishers were sourced by the Foundation to Preserve Ukraine’s Sacral Arts and ICOMOS from the fire safety provider Safelincs in the UK, thanks to the support from World Monuments Fund’s Ukraine Heritage Response Fund. Safelincs further provided the equipment below cost price, donated accessories, and covered transport costs across Europe to Poland. This allowed the delivery of a more significant number of extinguishers than would otherwise have been possible.

Crates with fire extinguishers. Image: ICOMOS

The Polish Committee for Ukrainian Museums, through the Warsaw Rising Museum and Instytut Pawla Wlodkowica, supported transport logistics and provided warehousing in Warsaw, Poland, and organized onward transport by truck to Lviv, Ukraine.

The extinguishers will be distributed by the Center to Rescue Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage based in Lviv,  the Heritage Emergency Response Initiative based in Kyiv, and ICOMOS Ukraine. In addition to the wooden churches on the UNESCO World Heritage List, fire extinguishers will be distributed to other wooden churches in order of priority, as determined by the above parties, according to their level of significance (international, national, regional, etc.) and impending threats.

The instructions and advice on their use were prepared by heritage professionals on an international collaborative crisis platform set up under the aegis of the UK-based Institute of Conservation. The texts have now been translated into Ukrainian and will be distributed with the fire extinguishers and made available online. Participants on the platform also advised on suitable extinguishers during the sourcing process.