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Whirling Laser Captures Digital Heritage

Image of Whirling Laser Records 3D Culture

Under the plaintive painted eyes of the holy, a volunteer team of two United Nations-backed engineers watched as a whirling laser took a million measurements a second inside Kyiv’s All Saints Church.

The laser swept quickly across the church, part of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, while taking a series of incredibly high-resolution photographs.

Those images will be stitched together with navigational data to create a perfect three-dimensional rendering of the holy site, part of a project to protect and preserve historic places across Ukraine now in as much in danger as its people amid Russia’s war on the country.

“It’s a critical moment,” said Chiara Dezzi Bardeschi, who oversees Ukraine for UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency. “If it’s not protected now, we really risk that this heritage is lost forever.”

Since Russia launched the war in February 2022, at least 259 cultural and historic sites have been damaged by the fighting, according to UNESCO. They include religious sites, museums, monuments and libraries. It remains common to see statues across the country surrounded by sandbags or scaffolding to protect them from airstrikes or other attacks.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is pouring money and the donations of Western nations backing it into its military as it tries to claw back more territory as the summer fighting months begin. That leaves little money for preservation of its historic sites, which already have faced cycles of destruction in the past from czarist Russia, the Nazis during World War II and the Soviet Union in the decades after.

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