The brutal invasion of Ukraine is sending shudders around the world. Unfortunately, Ukraine’s cultural heritage has also been damaged and destroyed by Russian forces. This includes museums, archives, brick Byzantine churches, cathedrals, monasteries, futuristic Soviet-era bus stops, several Art Nouveau buildings, theatres, and monuments.
Twenty-five paintings of beloved folk artist Maria Prymachenko were destroyed after a museum near her village was targeted. “If we lose our culture, we lose our identity,” said Lilya Onyschenko, the head of Lviv’s city council heritage protection office.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also taken action to help safeguard the endangered sites. Ukraine is home to seven World Heritage sites, including the 11th-century Saint-Sophia Cathedral and the Historic Centre of Lviv.
In response to the Russian invasion, Ukrainians are physically safeguarding their heritage. For example, the Odesa Fine Arts Museum ordered razor wiring to be placed around the museum to prevent Russian forces from entering. This museum houses 10,000 works of art, including works by the avant-garde artist, Wassily Kandinsky, who lived in Odesa when he was a child. Volunteers in Odesa piled sandbags around the public monument of the Duke of Richelieu as protection against bombing. Other galleries and museums moved artefacts to safer spaces. Museum Crisis Center was founded in Ukraine to help safeguard museum staff and save heritage. The success of these measures will only be known at a later stage.
“The irony of the situation is that we are having to save Russian artists’ works from their own people,” said Kharikiv’s Fine Arts Museum’s head of foreign art in an interview with Reuters. This museum was also damaged, and staff members tried to save the art, amongst others, the works of the 19th-century painter Ilya Repin, who was born in Ukraine but became known as an artist when he lived in St Petersburg and Moscow.
Expecting the worst, several librarians, archivists and researchers from Ukraine and worldwide are working on Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online. They use a combination of technology to document heritage online and to develop a geospatial database of cultural property in Ukraine.
See the articles in Hyperallergic and The Guardian for more information: