The 1954 Hague Convention calls for the protection of cultural property in armed conflict

In the end of March, Russian invaders hit the office of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Chernihiv, where the SBU’s regional archive is located. According to media sources, the case files of 13,000 victims of Stalin’s Great Purge were destroyed in the fire resulting from the strike. The National Archives of Finland is currently trying to discover how much of this material had been digitised.

In 2019, the National Archives of Finland signed collaboration agreements with the State Archive Service of Ukraine and the SBU Archive. The National Archives of Finland has been actively discussing digitising the Soviet Union’s People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs’, or the NKVD’s, documents on Finns with the SBU Archive in relation to the ongoing ‘Finns in Russia’ research project of the National Archives. According to the research project’s information, the SBU Archive has around 75 case files on Finns stored in its archives around Ukraine. The project focuses on the period between 1917 and 1964, when there were around 200 Finns in Ukraine, some of whom managed to leave the region before the Great Purge.

Russia has ratified the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its strike was in direct violation of this Convention. The strike is also indicative of the currently prevailing view of history in Russia, according to which the Soviet Union single-handedly saved Europe from fascism during the Second World War.

The National Archives of Finland has ceased its previously lively collaboration with Russian organisations. However, the ‘Finns in Russia’ project will continue. The materials needed in the project are sourced from Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Baltic states in particular. Russian sources will also be used, as will the extensive series of copies previously acquired by the National Archives of Finland from Russian archives and the materials of Finnish archives.

The crisis in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of digitising key information and cultural heritage materials to ensure their survival. The level of digitisation of European archives is generally quite low. So far, 3.9 per cent of the analogue materials stored by the National Archives of Finland have been digitised.

More information:
Päivi Happonen, acting director general at the National Archives of Finland, (, +358 50 468 8762.