Monday 2 May 2022

Melitopol Museum Inventory April 2022 [Updated]

Melitopol fell to the Russian invader on 1st March, just six days after the invasion started. The city was shelled and the museum staff were unable to arrange the evacuation of the exhibits, so they removed them from display and packed them in cling film on the display tablets and stored them in the basement in case the museum was destroyed. On 10th March (some sources say 11th) the Museum director (a Crimean Tatar, Leyla Ibrahimova) was detained and interrogated, soon after that another curator Halina Andriivna Kucher, was also detained for questioning. On Apr 27, 2022 this video appeared on You Tube in the account with a Z logo Южный плацдарм [Southern Bridgehead]: 22.5K subscribers(though it may have been made earlier) with this caption
27.04.22 | Пропавшие экспонаты Мелитопольского краеведческого музея - найдены
Экспонаты, считавшиеся похищенными из фондов Мелитопольского краеведческого музея – были найдены. Пропажу реликвий обнаружили после начала спецоперации России на Украине. Поисками занимались представители военно-гражданской администрации и сотрудники музея. Сейчас эксперты проводят опись и инвентаризацию.

04/27/22 | The missing exhibits of the Melitopol Museum of Local Lore - found
Exhibits that were considered to have been stolen from the assets of the Melitopol Museum of Local Lore, have been found. The loss of these relics was discovered after the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine. The search was carried out by representatives of the military-civilian administration and museum staff. Now experts are cataloguing and inventorising this material]
Russian troops found out that the museum's galleries had been emptied, and suspected that the artefacts "worth half a million dollars" had been stolen by the Ukrainian staff and taken out of the region. Then they found them on the Museum premises, in the cellar. So they set about securing them, making an inventory and this video was made to show this work in progress.

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The medium is called "ВиZуально [ViZually] Note the non-Cyrillic "Z", which tells us where in the Internet we are.

The video starts (0:06 to 0:24) with a bloke in a white lab coat, blue silicone gloves and a matching anti-Covid mask solemnly exhibiting a 1930s-Soviet-issue Cossack "shashka" that he says, echoed by the female presenter with the grating voice, is a relic of some Colonel Kirichenko who "liberated the town from the German Fascists" in 1943 (shot of Soviet WW2 enamelled commemorative medal for "Victory in the Great Patriotic War"). Note in the background the small table set up in the gallery with the chairs around and the paraphernalia of a customary Russian worktime tea-party on it.

"The [sabre] is just one of the exhibits [...] that the former director wanted to send to the territory of Western Ukraine" goes on the presenter with the heavy eye makeup (0:27-0:48), reading the script from her phone while being filmed full length striding purposefully in her little black ankle boots alongside a row of weapons laid out on the floor, as she does flashing a bit of thigh in her split hip-hugging black fake leather skirt. The items on the floor are a rather random selection of post-medieval bladed weapons and firearms, the latter mostly WW2 weaponry (some curated, some dugup - metal detectorists?). Note the bundles of cling-film from their unwrapping piled in a corner. The lady emphasises that the found exhibits include weapons of the Soviet 22 June 1941 to 9/11 May 1945 "Great Patriotic War" [Вели́кая Оте́чественная война́], objects of Scythian gold (0:38-40) and a collection of the orders and medals so beloved by the Soviet military. She ends by saying that the exhibits they found are worth "half a million dollars". Note that the Scythian gold had clearly been put into storage on the stands and boards which we see later in the film had been the way they were displayed in the museum cases, they had been secured in place by the cling-film we see in the film. In other words, the evidence of this film does not support the claim that the museum staff was preparing it for export, but were merely securing the exhibits.

The next speaker (0:50-1:00 and 1:11 to 1:25) is a somewhat nervous looking guy in the sort of denim jaket that was high male fashion in other parts of the Soviet Bloc in the late 1980s and green silicone gloves for handling the artefacts. He is not introduced, but by the way he says "we", one assumes that this is one of the members of staff appointed to take over the running of the Museum and its collections during the Russian occupation (possibly even Evgeni Gorlachov, apparently the new director). They then show (1:00-1:06) one of the boards that had been taken from a display case with the Scythian gold - still wrapped in cling film. Then it is back to those weapons that had been "prepred for removal", Cossack shashkas and an AK47 and other stuff. Then (1:26-1:29 and 1:35- 1:42) the film shows more boards removed from showcases on which are displayed WW2 medals and metal items (including Nazi stuff, for example an SS cap badge, possibly dugup, a Gebirgsjager Edelweiss and some form of dogtag that I do not recognise). Then there are several rows of German Iron Crosses and awards, there are German war merit medals first and second class. There are also two dozen assorted Soviet medals for participation in WW2 battles including Odessa and Sebastopol. I doubt that any Gebirgjager unit was fighting near Melitopol, so this might just be a donated private collection. There is a shot of the handwritten inventory (1:29-1:35) and photos next to it shows they are checking off what they found with the photos of the original displays. What is notable is that the (I would say rather flimsy) glass showcases they were displayed in seem to have been dismantled and stored too.

What I think notable is that it seems that despite thirty years of independence from the Soviet Union,  the museum still seems to have had on display, or at least in their collections, a fair range of artefacts commemorating the period when the region was in the Soviet Union (1918, or rather 1923 - 1992).  

But here we have a typical case, Ukrainian museum staff who apparently have moved material from open display to protect it from harm should the museum get hit by shells or bombs are accused by Russian occupier of "theft" (or attempted theft). The latter therefore feel the need to inventory and secure it. This leads to them in turn being accused of "theft" by Ukrainians. 

Who remembers the case of the so-called "Iraqi Jewish archive" that invading US forces removed to the US to "conserve it"  and then, as I recall never gave back? 

Update 9th June 2022
For what it is worth, here's a later film from another pro-Russian source using what seems to be the same footage, and presenting much the same message: "The stolen Scythian gold was returned to the Melitopol museum"....

                                    Posted on You Tube by "The Shade of Yuri Podolyaka" Jun 7, 2022.

Of note is the fact that Evgeni Gorlachov twice assures the viewer that the items were not buried in the Museum's own cellar, but that of some old administration building in the city. Leyla Ibrahimova has in interviews several times consistently reported  that the items were buried in the Museum's own cellars. Possibly, by claiming the objects had left the Museum, Gorlachov is trying to make more credible the narrative that people from "the Kyiv regime" (sic) were "trying to steal" the objects. All a bit of a mess. One presumes that since the city has been taken by the troops of the Russian Federation, the Museum will soon be reopening and the gold will be on show if really still in the city.  

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