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In Ukraine, more than 260 objects recognized as World Heritage Sites were destroyed

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Robbing and taking away the most valuable works of art – this is also the face of this war. The Russians take what they want from Ukrainian museums, and the employees of these museums, who protect priceless collections, pay for it with their lives. According to UNESCO, more than 260 objects recognized as World Heritage Sites have been destroyed in Ukraine.

Under the rubble of the ethnographic museum in the center of Kupiansk, priceless artifacts, documents, monuments and the body of the director of the institution were turned into dust. – When the city was under Russian occupation, she did everything to save the priceless objects. She took a huge risk. She took part of the ethnographic collection and hid it at home. She handed over to employees. At any moment, someone could find out about it, says Milena Chorna from the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II in Kiev. This is just one of many tragic stories of people who try to save not only museum collections, but also their national identity from war and robbery.

Many Ukrainian museologists do not leave the occupied cities. They are the last ones to stay there and pay a high price for it. – The director of the museum in Melitopol, when she knew that the Russians were approaching, began to hide the most valuable objects in the ground. She covered them with building materials, but as soon as the Russians appeared, she was kidnapped and tortured the next day, adds Milena Chorna.

Erdogan: Ukraine deserves NATO membershipReuters/TVN24

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High-risk profession

Russians entered museums. Sometimes they brought in their own experts and quickly figured out what was valuable, then robbed and carried away. New authorities were introduced to some of the institutions. This was the case in Kherson, among others. – At the beginning we told them that the most important elements of the collection had been taken away long before the war. Later, when the Russians interrogated us, we repeated that we knew nothing, that the information was in the hands of the director, who left the city a long time ago, says Larysa Zharkych from the Kherson Art Museum named after O. Shovkunenka.

The beginning of the war also revealed how unprepared Ukrainians are for what may come. The equipment needed to secure and evacuate works and digital catalogs was missing. Some of the collections were recorded only in written form, and now – in places such as Bakhmut or Lisychansk – they remain only in the memory of the museum employees. – Being a museologist in Ukraine is a very dangerous job these days. The first people to be called for questioning are school principals and museum directors. They are subjected to incredible pressure, forced to cooperate – explains Małgorzata Ławrowska-von Thadden, founder of the OBMIN foundation supporting Ukrainian museums.

Rescue operation after a rocket attack on Lviv

Rescue operation after a rocket attack on LvivReuters

Save the memories

According to UNESCO, more than 260 objects recognized as World Heritage Sites have been destroyed in Ukraine. Among them are sacral buildings, museums, libraries and monuments. Part of the Ukrainian collection is presented outside the country. The collection of 37 works from the museum in Kiev has been transferred to the Royal Castle in Warsaw, where they are examined by Polish and Ukrainian experts.

– Researchers from Kiev come to us, we host them here. These are not such scientific visits, but we just want them to be able to come, at least for a moment, and take a break from what is happening in Kiev, from this terrible war – explains Tomasz Jakubowski, curator of the exhibition “Masterpieces from the Chanenko Museum in Kiev”. Some of the works from the Kiev collection can be seen at the Royal Castle now. An exhibition of all the works is planned for 2024.

Main photo source: TVN facts

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