Ukrainian Video Archives Society Project Case Study

8th March 2024
Ukrainian Video Archives Society Project Case Study


From 2017-22, along with UK regional and national moving image archives, YFA took part in the British Film Institute led Heritage 2022 programme, its core aim to digitize and preserve 100,000 tapes of the nation's most at risk video collections.  As a result, YFA was able to highlight the value and significance of the Ukrainian Video Archives Society (UVAS) collection, as well as the need for dedicated funding for this collection due to its size and complexity.  In 2021, YFA was awarded a cataloguing grant from the Archives Revealed programme to carry out vital cataloging work and take the next step of the journey to making this unique collection accessible.   

The UVAS collection was made by first and second-generation immigrants with the express mission to record the life of the Ukrainian community in Bradford (as well as other communities across the UK) to pass on to future generations.  The society was set up in 1983, and filming for over 30 years, the collection grew to contain over 600 videotapes, recorded on VHS / Betamax formats, running approximately 750 hours in total.  

UVAS was a diaspora organization in every sense and saw itself through this lens.  Their films capture cultural activities of every variety, including dance ensembles, internationally recognized, award-winning choirs, church openings, activities organised by the Ukrainian Women’s Society and Ukrainian Youth Association, important events including Ukrainian Presidential visits, and visits of key religious leaders, alongside everyday life in the community over several decades.  Their films were shown throughout the Ukrainian community, carefully inventoried and stored away for future reference.



The Project:

Thanks to the Archive Revealed funding, a Project Archivist was employed from 2022-2023 to create fully descriptive catalogue records for a portion of the collection.  We were fortunate to recruit a talented archivist who was also third generation British Ukrainian and bilingual.  Given her own Ukrainian background and experience working with the Ukrainian communities in the UK, we had the advantage of an excellent starting point in the understanding of the varied content of the collection.  As a result, she undertook cataloguing work in much greater detail than was originally expected.  

YFA is strongly committed to increasing access to diverse collections, especially from communities that are currently under-represented within its collection and the region.  The UVAS collection presented a prime opportunity to do this, a highlight of the project being the ethical collaboration, working closely with the depositor filmmakers.  The inclusion of the depositors on the steering group was fundamental to this success, and they have been involved with decision making every step of the way.  One of the key elements of this is around managing access to sensitive material, whether culturally or politically sensitive.  The combination of professional skills from the Collections Manager and Project Archivist and the lived experience of the depositor-filmmakers means that we will be able to correctly structure access to material.  This continues the good practice with the depositor-filmmakers and sets a precedent for working with other community groups.                                                       

Unforeseen Circumstances:

Our project officially started on 1st February, 2022, and Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine on the 21st of the same month.  This significantly changed the context of the collection and the project.  Much of the early war reporting focused on the destruction of Ukrainian art, culture and heritage, including the pillaging of art works and destruction of museums, bringing the need for inclusive practice and decolonization of collections into sharp focus for the Project Archivist and Collections Manager.  It is important to note that this approach to decolonization is different to work being explored by other UK archive services, which seek to decolonize the legacy of British colonialism rather than Russian colonialism.

As for the footage itself, the films were made on video tape and recorded community life in the 1980s and 1990s.  This period in the diaspora community life was focused on campaigning and advocating for an independent Ukraine, and celebrating and elevating Ukrainian culture, as it had done since the late 1940s during the Cold War period.  The videos clearly illustrate this and give a narrative which is about freedom and anti-authoritarianism.  The post 1991 films evidence a refreshed Ukrainian diaspora, enhanced by new Ukrainians arriving in the UK and the fact that the community could refer to Ukraine rather than having to make everything in the diaspora.  

The Project Archivist noted, "The full-scale invasion peeled back 30 years of Ukrainian independence, pushing back to a place where the diaspora felt it their primary job to uphold Ukrainian culture at all costs.  To view the films through this lens was initially very traumatic, but it gave a new urgency and purpose to the project."


Final Report:

Thanks to the funding from the Archives Revealed grant, we were able to create and publish 84 full descriptive records available for public search on YFA's catalogue (  In addition, 371 Master records, and 692 Item records, documenting the collection as a whole are searchable onsite via YFA's Content Management System.  

Context for this collection is key, and working inclusively and learning from the filmmakers brought an accuracy and richness to the cataloguing and curation.  We were able to go beyond the expectation of creating important descriptive catalogue records and add substantial contextual information and interpretation to our records, reinforcing the collection's significance and giving a better understanding of its complexities.

Finally, continuing to build on partnerships with funders, we were able to include 20 titles in BFI Replay, a free-to-access digital archive exclusively available in UK public lending libraries.  Titles were selected to form two special YFA Regional Curated Collections.  One collection focused on the Ukrainian community in Bradford, and the other around larger customs, culture, and tradition of choirs in the Ukrainian community at home and abroad.

On behalf of ourselves and UVAS, we would like to express our very grateful thanks to The National Archives, the Pilgrim Trust and the Wolfson Foundation for supporting this important and, as circumstances transpired, extremely timely project through the Archives Revealed programme.