The Legacy and Significance of Ukrainian Wooden Art


As part of Colgate University’s Art and Art History lecture series, Yuri Yanchyshyn gave a presentation on the legacy and life of Ukrainian cultural artifacts, with special attention given to their continued significance in light of the war against Russia. The talk was co-sponsored by the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization Forum on Cultural Heritage.

Yanchyshyn is a Fulbright U.S. Specialist (2016) and Scholar (2018-2019) in Ukraine, as well as principal and senior conservator of two firms in the New York City metropolitan area. He spoke about Ukrainian wooden art and the fight to save Ukrainian culture.

Yanchyshyn’s talk focused on individual Ukrainians who documented and preserved Ukrainian art. He primarily discussed historical figures but also addressed contemporary Ukrainians who recently died fighting Russia.

“Their legacy extends far beyond the objects they risked their lives to save and deserves recognition for helping to weave together the fabric of the history of Ukraine,” Yanchyshyn said.

He discussed various Ukrainian wooden churches, Jewish wooden synagogues, iconostasis and Roman Catholic polychrome sculptures. Many of these structures have been partially or completely destroyed. While the war against Russia has resulted in further damage to the remaining artifacts, they were primarily destroyed decades prior.

“[Nothing] could prepare [past Ukrainians] for what was to come: the full-scale, purposeful destruction of the Ukrainian people, and their culture, beginning in the 1930s,” Yanchyshyn said.

There were several comments from audience members about how deeply emotional the talk made them feel. Junior Eddy Zhang, who attended the lecture, was struck on an emotional and intellectual level.

“I thought that Mr. Yanchyshyn’s talk was super informative and interesting,” Zhang said. “But moreover, it was moving. The stories he told of those called to fight for their home and families were a sober reminder that even though the news cycle has moved on to a degree, the costs of this terrible war continue to mount. I am grateful that he came to speak with us about such a pressing issue.” 

Sophomore Haley Bloch was also present at the talk and felt similarly inspired by Yanchyshyn’s words.

“Having Yuri Yanchyshyn on campus was the highlight of my week,” Bloch said. “Not only did he give long overdue credit to conservationists’ steadfast efforts to protect and restore Ukrainian cultural heritage, but at dinner and in class the next day, his passion for his work was undeniably inspiring and contagious.”

Overall, Yanchyshyn emphasized the need for more discussion about the preservation of Ukrainian national identity, especially after Russian attacks.

“Little is mentioned about the significance of Ukraine’s material-cultural heritage of architecture and artifacts in current events,” Yanchyshyn said. “Now, more than ever, has the rediscovery and increased public awareness of Ukraine’s cultural heritage ever been so vital.”