Time-critical Captures in Ukraine

Social Entrepreneurs Scan and Model Ukrainian Heritage Sites

Skeiron from SaveUkrainianHeritage with laser scanner Leica BLK360

Author: Megan Hansen

3D digital twin of the Dominican cathedral in Ukraine on Leica Cyclone REGISTER 360

Over its centuries-long existence, the 18th-century Dominican Church located in old town Lviv, Ukraine, has stood as an architectural witness to changing eras. The Baroque-style cathedral is, like many churches across the country, an important heritage site embodying a piece of Ukrainian cultural history.

In March 2022, a group of 3D data specialists and social entrepreneurs called Skeiron LLC digitally documented the Dominican Church inside and out. They recorded grand archways, paintings, pews, and small sculptures tucked inside alcoves, captured from 120 scanning station setups and 4,000 images. With this data, they created a navigable, photorealistic 3D model enabling virtual visitors to explore the cathedral’s vivid features, from a bird’s eye view of intricately patterned tile to a close-up perusal of votives and golden cherubs.

The Dominican Church is just one of 39 sites Skeiron has scanned as part of the #SaveUkranianHeritage project since the war in Ukraine began. Their mission to capture and create 3D models of heritage structures, important at any time, has taken on an entirely new urgency as over 210 Ukrainian cultural sites have suffered damage since February 2022.

Skeiron’s work ensures the sites they scan are preserved digitally just as they are today, no matter what the future holds. 

 3D data specialists Skeiron from Lviv, Ukraine standing with the Leica C10 laser scanner

From childhood friends to company co-founders

Andriy Hryvnyak, Yura Prepodobnyi and Volodymyr Zaiats were life-long friends and fellow students at Lviv Polytechnic University before they co-founded Skeiron. Yura studied geodesy, while Andriy and Volodymyr studied computer science. Their combined specialisations and eye for innovation developed into a company that benefits from both.

“At the university together, we learned to use different technologies and saw that digitalisation is a great opportunity allowing us to collaborate and create something new,” recalls Andriy.

“We always wanted to do something together and in 2016 we started our company. At that time, drones and related technologies were developing greatly,” reflects Yura, “and in the beginning, we scanned exclusively by drones.”

Appropriate to the sky-borne technology of their beginnings, they named the company Skeiron after the Greek god of the northwest wind. Over time, however, they expanded their instrument line-up to include terrestrial laser scanners, using point clouds and photogrammetry to develop their offerings in innovative ways.

“From laser scanning, we have created augmented (AR) reality postcards which work with your phone and display different cities or regions in Ukraine, like Odessa, Kharkiv, and Lviv. This technology has also made it possible for us to work with museums for AR and virtual reality presentations and exhibits,” says Andriy.

3d digital twin of dominican cathedral in ukraine shown in cyclone register 360

Digital collaboration helps capture more data and expand impact

A social entrepreneurship focus has always been important to Skeiron, evidenced by their volunteer work scanning endangered structures and making small 3D printed models of historic buildings for blind children. However, the war prompted them to intensify this focus through the #SaveUkrainianHeritage project.

“When the war started, Volodymyr went to fight for Ukraine at the front. We also wanted to do something from our side,” explains Andriy. “We realised we could help by scanning, and we focus on heritage sites because during war, you never know what will happen tomorrow.”

Having scanned thousands of culturally important structures across the country, Skeiron is managing the large-scale project through a collaborative database.

“At the beginning of the war, we created a big list of what we have done over the years and made this accessible to the public on our website,” says Yura.

They also added buildings which have yet to be scanned, identified by national organisations that protect monuments. Published in regional lists, their database allows anyone to see the progress and provide funding or collaborate to help complete the data collection.

“We have already scanned many sites, including some UNESCO sites, especially those with a high danger of being destroyed,” says Yura. “After we shared some of our results, everything started moving much faster — it became like a snowball, with many others participating and adding data every day.”

Publishing 3D models on their website and social media channels also helped attract partners and collaborators, and the project has garnered notice from international heritage preservation organisations like the POLONIKA Institute in Poland and the ALIPH Foundation in Switzerland. Additionally, it has fostered collaboration with volunteers, like French engineer and laser scanning expert Emmanuel Durand, who scanned damaged heritage sites in Eastern Ukraine at the start of the war.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in our work and many collaborators. We connected with Emmanuel and worked on some sites together. He linked us with Leica and the Cyclone REGISTER 360 license, and we connected him to contacts in the Eastern regions where he went to help scan,” details Yura.

3d data specialist from Skeiron standing with the leica cyclone c10 laser scanner

The wide reach of digital twins: enabling preservation, education, and restoration

Using digital reality technologies, including the Leica C10 and P20 laser scanners and a range of reality capture software, Skeiron creates data-rich visuals that tell the narrative of a structure along with an archivable record of its exact measurements.

For example, to capture St. Andrews, an early 17th-century church in Lviv featuring a unique combination of Italian Renaissance architecture and German-Dutch Mannerism design, Skeiron merged scans from 75 station setups with 3,500 photos. By matching scanning station setups to each distinct room, Leica REGISTER 360 automatically merged the scans together to form a single point cloud. Afterwards, Skeiron combined the entire structure and used this universal point cloud to build the 3D model, enriching it through photogrammetry.

“After we merge the data, we export the scans in E57 or PTX format and use software to mark and match photos and laser scans together. For drawing and architecture where measurements need to be accurate, it is important to use laser scanners because photogrammetry alone can lead to mistakes in these settings, like when there are reflections or gold surfaces,” says Yura.  

This combination of methods enables them to create photorealistic 3D models with multi-faceted benefits for education and preservation. If necessary, these models could, for example, serve as data-rich, detailed resources for restoration.

“For many people, these interactive models will raise awareness,” explains Andriy. “But they are also very accurate and if anything happens to these buildings in the future, we will have all the data to restore them.”

“Our focus is on gathering data and making it available to preservationists. We want the scanned models to be part of large social projects about Ukraine and its architectural history. Ultimately,” concludes Yura, “we hope to provide a data bank that can help promote thousands of Ukrainian monuments and aid in recovery if needed.”



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