Ukraine-Russia War: Live Updates
KIEV, Ukraine — At 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning, Ihor Poshyvailo, the director of the Freedom Museum here, was awakened by the sound of explosions.
He rushed out into the street and saw planes flying overhead, he said. An hour later, he was meeting with officials from Ukraine’s culture ministry to try to figure out how the country’s museums could protect their collections.
“We had plans for what to do before the war,” Poshyvailo said, “but now it’s a war, it’s totally different.”
By the time they considered evacuating the most valuable artifacts from the Kiev museum, the roads were already congested with Ukrainians fleeing west, and they realized that wouldn’t be possible, Poshyvailo said.
Although talk of the conflict in Ukraine has been brewing for weeks, some museums in the country were ill-prepared when shelling and rocket attacks began and Russian troops entered the country on Thursday morning. Although museums and other cultural sites are unlikely to be direct targets of Russian aggression, trustees worry about the safety of their collections if the fighting escalates and moves into urban areas. Some feared that Russian nationalists could attack institutions that offer Ukrainian historical and cultural accounts.
Ukraine is home to thousands of museums, ranging from small private institutions to large state-owned collections in Kyiv, the capital, and Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea. State collections include important works of Ukrainian and Russian art; Classical and Byzantine artifacts; and paintings by Bellini, Goya, Rubens and Jacques-Louis David.
The Freedom Museum, which was founded in 2014, features a collection of around 4,000 objects associated with Ukraine’s pro-democracy struggles, including banners and artwork. Poshyvailo said he feared for some items if Russian troops entered Kiev before the items had been moved to safety.
“Our museum is proof of Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” he said. “Of course I’m scared.”
State museums, including the Liberty Museum, need government permission to remove objects from their buildings, a process involving a lot of paperwork. Poshyvailo said he had asked to do so earlier this month, but other museums had not done so, and the government had done nothing to make it easier for them amid rising tensions in recent times. weeks.
Poshyvailo said he was moving items from his museum’s collection to storage, but declined to give further details.
He refused to blame the Ukrainian government for its lack of preparation or guidance. “It’s not the government that did this,” he said. “It’s Putin.”
Another Kyiv museum whose trustees feared for its collection is the National Museum of the History of Ukraine during World War II, which also tells the story of Ukraine’s involvement in other conflicts, including its war with Russia in the east of the country from 2014. Yuriy Savchuk, the museum’s director, said he and his team worked 12 hours from 6 a.m. Thursday to move exhibits the most important of the museum in a safe place. It was “a great achievement,” he said.
The museum, which stands beneath the iconic landmark of Kiev, the Motherland, was a possible target for rocket attacks, he said.
Aleksandra Kovalchuk, director of the Odessa Museum of Fine Arts, said in a WhatsApp message that museum workers were “doing the only thing we could” to protect her collection. This meant, she says, “hiding the arts in the basement. Try to organize security. Barbed wire.”
The collection of the Odessa Museum of Fine Arts includes more than 10,000 objects ranging from Russian and Ukrainian religious icons dating back to the 16th century to works by contemporary Ukrainian artists. Its events director, Ulyana Dovgan, said the museum was closed on Thursday. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said Russian troops had landed in the city.
Sergiy Lebedynsky, director of the Kharkiv School of Photography Museum, in an area near the Russian border that has been shelled throughout the day, said in an email on Monday that much of the collection of his museum was stored in Germany while the museum was being renovated. He should probably “vacuum the rest of our collection this week,” he said. Lebedynsky did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Another museum that has removed artefacts from the country is the War Childhood Museum, a Bosnia and Herzegovina-based organization that organizes temporary exhibits around the world exploring children’s experiences of conflict. He had more than 300 objects in Kyiv which he collected after the annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia in 2014. He presented them at temporary exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad, including a recent exhibition in Kherson , a city annexed by Russia near Crimea.
Jasminko Halilovic, the director of the museum, said by telephone that he had visited Kiev last week and brought with him to Bosnia and Herzegovina some 40 objects needed for future exhibitions. But he added that about 300 other items remained in Kyiv, as did the organization’s three full-time staff in the country. “They want to stay,” Halilovic said. “It’s their country. They have family and friends. And it also seems like a privilege to leave, when not everyone can.
The situation for Ukrainian museums was changing rapidly on Thursday, including the question of which staff members would be on hand to look after them. This was clear during the telephone interview with Poshyvailo from the Freedom Museum. At the end of the call, Poshyvailo said he had just learned that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called on able-bodied men under 60 to take up arms in the conflict.
Poshyvailo, 54, said he was ready to fight if necessary. But first, he had to make sure his collection was safe.
Valerie Hopkins reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Alex Marshall from London.