The time of change, the time of choice came to Ukraine with the beginning of the war. We had to set vectors and priorities in all spheres of life. Science, culture and, in particular, open-air museums were no exception. First of all, we faced the issue of the protection and preservation of museum collections. Having adapted to the new conditions, the following questions arose: how to function in the future, how to develop and be interesting to visitors, and how to remain relevant and meet social demands. The need for a specialized event already existed long before the war. Thoughts about organizing a conference or summit in one format or another existed simultaneously in several persons, but due to insufficient communication it was not possible to implement the plans.
In such a situation it is important to understand that you are not alone with these problems, to feel supported. Thus, in October 2022 the SUN (Support Ukrainian network) initiative was created. It gave us more confidence and we began to draw up an action plan. One of the first points was the distribution of profile information and a meeting in the form of a conference.
Therefore, on 23-24 March 2023, the first international conference "Living History and Experimental Archaeology" in Ukraine was held on the grounds of the Kamianets-Podilskyi State Historical Museum-Reserve, with the assistance of the "Chorna Galych" NGO and EXARC.
The goal of the conference, first of all, was to gather caring, interested and practicing professionals to exchange experiences in the field of experimental archaeology, living history, and the application of this experience in museums, tourism and other fields.
Participants of the conference were representatives of all regions, even those that survived the occupation. We can also say that we covered a significant territory of Ukraine (Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Nadvirna, Zvyagel, Korosten, Legedzeno (Cherkasy region), Kamianets-Podilskyi, Zhytomyr, Manevichi); 36 projects in total, 30 of which were represented in person, which was a great success considering the war. This was the main confirmation that interest in experimental archaeology grows every year, and the representatives of the open-air museums see in it the possibility of a path for their institutions and a method of development for society in general.
Also among the participants were representatives from other countries: Genadiy Nizhnyk-Kolomiychuk from "Regnum Hierosomylitanum" from Israel, Stephanie Piper, Dr Aimee Little and Jessica Bates from the University of York, and Dr Roeland Paardekooper from EXARC.
Also important is that archaeologists who practiced experimental archaeology in Ukraine on their historical and cultural reserves or on their own initiative since the 70-80s of the 20th century responded too. PhD Vitaly Hutsal, Professor of the Department of Archaeology and Special Historical and Legal Disciplines of Kamianets-Podilskyi National University I. Ohienko. (Kamianets-Podilskyi), Chabanyuk Vladyslav, director of the State Historical and Cultural Reserve "Trypillya Culture". (Legedzyne, Cherkasy region), and PhD Andriy Petrauskas, researcher at the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (Kyiv). This information gives us a certain basis and the understanding that we are not starting from scratch, but that the experience gained in the past will not be lost.
The largest number of speakers were museum workers, archaeologists and researchers: Dr. Kateryna Bila, Department of History of Ukraine in the 19th and early 20th centuries, PhD Serhii Taranenko, Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra National Reserve, Oleksandr Didyk, junior researcher of the scientific research department of the historical and cultural reserve "Davniy Plisnesk", Taras Rak, Lviv History Museum PhD Pavlo Nechytaylo, Kamianets-Podilskyi architectural and archaeological expedition, and others. Directors of open-air museums and representatives of cultural departments got to know the authors of the projects from other institutions.
Of course, a number of representatives from the scientific sphere and reenactors were also interested in the event but could not participate because they were serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. While being treated for injuries at the front, PhD Andriy Petrauskas submitted materials to the conference, where he was a co-author of article.
The Director of the Kamianets-Podilskyi State Historical Museum-Reserve, Oleksandr Zaremba, who took the initiative and expressed the idea of holding the event in his institution, is also currently serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and could be partially present.
A participant from Israel presented a completely different experience than we can find in Europe. But outside of different formats, during the course of our communication, we came to the conclusion that we have many similar issues to be resolved and that we have something to learn from each other.
Communication between the archaeologists, masters of ancient crafts, workers and managers of open-air museums and organizers of historical festivals was productive; these were people who rarely overlap in their work space, so they do not normally have the opportunity to understand each other's work.
The conference was divided into four sections:
- Experimental archaeology, the experience of reproducing ancient crafts and technologies, objects of material culture;
- Cooperation of museums and cultural reserves of Ukraine with NGOs and associations working in the field of experimental archaeology and re-enactment, etc. Organization of living history events on the basis of museums;
- Round Table. Summary of the conference. Strategizing the next steps of the working group;
- Practical part. Presentation of flint knapping technique by Dmytro Stupak, researcher of the Institute of Archaeology. Presentation and testing of musical instruments of the XII century by master-researcher Volodymyr Ilkiv.
This conference has become a precedent and has already brought practical results.
A society of like-minded people began to form, and most of the participants joined a common chat where communication on the topics were s already underway.
We saw the beginnings of new interdisciplinary collaborations and the desire to create history together on a scientific and social basis.
The first material of the conference report will be published in a Ukrainian popular science magazine, which we believe will be a step towards a better perception of our activities by society. Also, there are already offers from institutions who want to host the conference on their premises next year, and are sure that the number of participants and the quality of the projects will increase. We have somewhere to go and something to fight for.