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Berkeley Woman Leads Effort To Help Save Ukraine's Digital History Amid Russian Attacks

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) – With so much of Ukraine lying in ruins, there is a fear that its history and culture, preserved as digital media, could be destroyed as well.  So, a Bay Area effort is underway to save it from being lost forever.

As she sits in the corner of her Berkeley home, Quinn Dombrowski is surrounded by photos and artwork of her children that she has saved over the years. Now she's doing the same thing for Ukraine.

As the Russians invade and leave utter destruction in their wake, they're also destroying the machinery that holds the digital record of the country's history, as well as the trappings of everyday life.

"It's easy to think that it's always out there, always being backed up," said Dombrowski, "But at the end of the day, the internet is dependent on physical things, it's dependent on servers and power and cables."

So Dombrowski helped create a group called SUCHO, for Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online.  It's an army of 1,300 archivists across the globe who are desperately trying to record Ukrainian websites before they are lost.

Quinn Dombrowski Ukraine Archive
Quinn Dombrowski of Berkeley created a group called SUCHO, which stands for Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online. (CBS)

Much of Ukraine's culture, from music to art to literature, is stored as digital data and Dombrowski and her colleagues are racing to save it before it can be wiped out.

"It's a day-to-day, hour-by-hour thing," she told KPIX 5.  "We have people watching the air raid warnings coming out of Ukraine, and then rapidly reprioritizing the sites that we have yet to do."

Much of what they save is being sent to San Francisco's Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital warehouse, with massive data servers. They save everything there, from obscure websites to people's home movies to old newspapers from the 1960s.  But now they have an added task.

"Let's start with archiving Ukrainian culture at a time when it might get wiped from the map," founder Brewster Kahle told KPIX 5.

Kahle said they're not only storing material from Ukraine's past, but also documenting today's news, from both Western and Russian perspectives.

"The misinformation and disinformation campaigns that are going on right now are widespread," he said.  "So, not only is this useful for history looking back, but it's useful for right now, understanding what's going on."

Back at her apartment, Dombrowski was recording the website of a Ukrainian library, with happy pictures of community events and a children's Christmas party.

She said capturing and preserving images of everyday life in the country has been helpful in soothing the fear and anger she feels about the war.

"Instead of just scrolling the news, I sort of throw all that energy into actually doing something. And it's been really cathartic," she said.

Dombrowski said she hopes the effort will never be needed, that the war will end, and the country can rebuild. Just in case, they're keeping a record so the memory of Ukraine will not disappear.

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