01 December 2023 13:44

To avoid losing the monuments of the Lavra

The monastic complex of buildings of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Preserve is a national treasure of Ukraine. The condition of its architectural monuments is affected by many factors, in particular the condition of the water supply system outside the preserve, the movement of heavy machinery, and so on.  Researchers from the Institute of Geological Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine decided to examine the condition of the buildings, the risks concerning their preservation, and what needs to be done to eliminate these threats. 

A team led by Dmytro Buhai, a leading researcher at the Institute, is implementing the project ‘Comprehensive study of the geo-environmental state of preservation of historical and cultural heritage objects of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra National Preserve in the context of hostilities’. The project was awarded a grant in the call of the National Research Foundation of Ukraine ‘Science for the Recovery of Ukraine in the War and Post-War Periods’. 

The researchers plan to investigate the condition of the soil foundations in the most problematic areas of the preserve, determine the level of moisture, find cracks and voids, and find out whether there are inclines in the structures and whether these inclines are dangerous. “We combine experimental methods and mathematical modeling and plan to obtain results that will have both scientific and applied significance. We hope that the results of our work will help preserve monuments of global value”, told Dmytro Buhai.

The team has already purchased software for modeling the stress-strain state of soils and predicting engineering and geological conditions. The researchers have begun geophysical research in the Metropolitan’s Garden where a rise in the groundwater was recorded due to water supply pipes breaks outside the preserve. “The purpose of the research is to determine the state and dynamics of soil moisture. These studies are carried out using non-destructive methods, they do not require drilling wells in the soil, and they allow us to preserve the cultural layer and structures of historical monuments”, the PI noted.

How is this research performed?

According to the researcher, electrodes are immersed in the ground to measure the electrical resistance of the soil at different distances and depths. Based on the analysis of the data obtained, a profile of the soil geophysical properties is created. “Thus, we are performing electrical tomography of the soil,” explained Mr Buhai.

The research results will be used to build a three-dimensional model of the soil electrical properties. It will take into account the spatial distribution of clay and sand, moisture and salts in the soil section, as well as the condition of engineering structures and communications located on the site. “The groundwater level has been monitored before, using wells”, the researcher added. “But these were scatter data. Our research will help cover a wider area and give a comprehensive picture of the condition of the soil and buildings.”

In fact, the researchers also hope to learn about the condition of the underground passages of the 17th-18th centuries which are located under the Metropolitan’s Garden. And perhaps find passages that have remained unknown until now. 

Based on the results of the observations, the most problematic areas of the monastery will be identified and examined especially carefully. According to preliminary data, these will be the Great Lavra Bell Tower (there is evidence of its incline), the Assumption Cathedral (subsidence and cracks in the building’s structures were seen), and the Metropolitan’s Garden (a dangerous hydrological situation has developed there).

 “We will assess the condition of the buildings that have manifestations of negative geological, hydrological and engineering-geological processes,” explained the PI. “We will determine what caused the development of these processes and develop recommendations on what needs to be done to prevent negative impacts in the future.

Next year, the team plans to purchase a set of geophysical sensors that will help monitor the technical condition of the architectural landmarks in real time. These include accelerometers (they will measure the vibration load on the building, and a special program will identify old and new cracks), seismic and acoustic sensors (to help find cracks and voids), and a laser inclinometer (to help determine whether there are inclines in the buildings and whether these inclines are threatening). 

The research team is multidisciplinary, it includes practitioners, who already have experience in preserving monuments, and theorists. For instance, Dmytro Buhai worked with the famous researcher Vadym Rybin, who sounded the alarm twenty years ago that many of the Lavra monuments were in an emergency and semi-emergency condition and warned that if the complex was not systematically, with the involvement of researchers strengthened, the preserve could be lost. In 2005-2007, researchers investigated the area of the garden above the Near Caves where soil subsidence and sinkholes occurred, equipped a network of observation wells, and installed moisture sensors in the caves. 

Tetiana Kryl, Head of the Department of Engineering Geology at the Institute of Geological Sciences of the NAS of Ukraine, is analyzing the soil conditions within the framework of the project. Tetiana Kryl will also model possible scenarios (in particular, the likelihood of landslides and subsidence) that can be caused by man-made and natural impacts.

Serhii Popov, Head of the Training Laboratory of the Department of Geophysics of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, will analyze the electrical tomography of soil. Sergiy Shcherbyna, Senior Researcher at the Seismic Hazard Department of S.I. Subbotin Institute of Geophysics of the NAS of Ukraine, will conduct microseismic surveys of buildings. Vasyl Mostovyi, a lecturer at the Institute of High Technologies of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, will process microseismic data using mathematical methods. The team also includes two early-career researchers – graduate students Oleh Chaly and Bohdan Zanoz.

We asked the PI whether the team has a vision for implementing the research results? 

“Yes!”, replied the PI. “We work closely with the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra National Preserve, and one of our co-implementers is Iryna Cherevko, Head of the scientific sector for monitoring immovable monuments of the Preserve. She knows every corner of the monastery and is one of the most active researchers of the Lavra monuments. The results of the research and recommendations for preservation will be passed on to the experts of the Preserve and representatives of the local government of the capital. 

The researchers plan to continue the research after the end of the project. They are confident that the monitoring system they are building on the territory of the monastery will help to identify and respond to danger alerts in time.


Interviewed by Svitlana GALATA

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