Saturday 25 June 2022

What we Know About Damage to Museum Collections in Ukraine (and those "Looting to Order" Allegations)

I was looking through the 'Damaged cultural sites in Ukraine verified by UNESCO' list. This in fact contains a very mixed bag of items, and one wonders on the basis of what was it composed and what underlying assumptions it embodies. Some of the buildings and monuments it lists are not historical buildings at all, and date from the last few decades. Also this list says nothing at all about the date of the report of damage, the circumstances of the damage, or any description of its extent, or what has been done to the place since then. The picture it presents is therefore rather a skewed one, not what I would expect from a body like UNESCO.

With regard the ongoing propaganda about Russian troops and government-sponsored 'gangs' removing selected items of cultural property to Russia, I thought it would be helpful to list the location of the 11 (they say 12) museums on this list in three broad geographical blocks:

Kievan Campaign (24th Feb - 3rd April 2022)

1) Ivankiv Museum – (Kyiv Region). Hit by shelling in Battle of Ivankiv, 25 February 2022 burnt, some artefacts believed to have been saved by staff (see posts on this blog).

2) Local History Museum of Borodyanshchyna in Borodyanka – (Kyiv region) the Borodyanka Museum of Local Lore was hit by an air strike

In the first three days of March, Borodianka survived four air raids. The Russian military dropped dozens of bombs on seven high-rise buildings on Tsentralna Street. The explosions were so powerful that they destroyed half a house, and people hiding in basements were torn to pieces or buried alive.
There seems to be very little information online about the current state of the museum collection and whether looting had taken place.

Northeastern Ukraine offensive and temporary occupation (24th Feb - 14 May 2022)

3) Chernihiv Museums  (Chernihiv region). Damaged [Sophia Kishkovsky, Museum building heavily damaged in Ukraine's battle-ravaged city of Chernihiv The Art Newspaper 15 March 2022]. The main museum had escaped damage, but The Military Historical Museum - a branch of the main museum – "the façade of another of the museum's buildings, a branch devoted to military history, had been damaged but that the contents were safe and had been moved to a secure location".

3a) One structure associated with the main city museum, the "House of the Vasil Tarnovski Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities" — now a regional youth library, was almost destroyed by bombing on 11 March.

4) Regional Art Museum. G. Galagana (built in 1899) – (Chernihiv). Damaged. On February 24, the galleries of the Galagan Art Museum were emptied. The exhibits were moved to a safe place and are now returning.

5) Kharkiv Art Museum – (Kharkiv) Museum building damaged. For the collections, see: Vitalii Hnidyi, 'Ukraine museum scrambles to save Russian art from the Russians' Reuters March 9, 2022. See also Justin Klawans, Staff at Kharkiv Art Museum Working Desperately to Save Masterpieces, Newsweek 10th March 2022:
As the war on Ukraine passes the two-week mark, Russian forces continue to surround numerous cities within the country. This includes Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city and a key industrial hub. With Russian bombs continuing to fall, citizens in the city are trying to prevent Kharkiv from being turned to rubble. This effort is especially evident at the Kharkiv Art Museum.

While the museum building itself remains intact, photos show that the majority of the windows have been blown out by a number of airstrikes. In addition, the museum is said to be covered in a layer of dust and debris. [...] As efforts to save the artwork continue, Maryna Filatova, the head of the museum's foreign art department, spoke to Reuters about the collection.

"There are more than 25,000 items in our collection," Filatova told Reuters. "Kharkiv Art Museum's collection is one of the biggest in Ukraine, one of the most valuable." Ironically, Filatova said that while the Russians continue to drop bombs on the museum, many of the pieces within the collection were created by Russian artists, not Ukrainians. "It is simply the irony of fate that we should be saving Russian artists, paintings by Russian artists, from their own nation," Filatova said. "This is simply barbarism."

Filatova also noted that the windows being blown out had made it impossible to control the temperature and humidity within the building—something that is key to preserving the older paintings.

She said that one of the museum's most prized paintings, Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks by Russian painter Ilya Repin, had to be taken down and put in storage, which could potentially damage the artwork. "Repin's painting, basically, it should not be moved," Filatova said. "Temperature or humidity conditions are not recommended. Any movement should be avoided. We treat it with great care, but there is not a single window intact in this room."

"Thank God there is no damage that anyone can see. The real damage we will only be able to assess in a peaceful time, when it is calm," Filatova said. "Workers, women that are still in town, we will work and do our best to save it all. We are taking the paintings down and will hide them," adding that: "We are doing our best to preserve them."
These precautions seem to have prevented immediate damage to the works, there are no reports of Russian troops having found the caches where they were stored during the Battle for Kharkiv (24 February – 14 May 2022), the Museum's website shows the museum is open again

6) Hryhorii Skovoroda National Literary Memorial Museum – Skovorodynivka – (Kharkiv region) - museum dedicated to the life and work of 18th century philosopher and poet Hryhorii Skovoroda. On 6 May 2022, the museum burned down from being struck by a Russian missile during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On the night of 6-7 May, a Russian rocket smashed into the building, setting it on fire and injuring a museum worker. The museum was renovated just before the war. Now it lies in complete ruins, a burned-out husk. Ukrainian Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko offered only one point of solace: the exhibits were evacuated when the war began, and they survived.
Let us hope that is true.

7) Okhtyrka City Museum of Local Lore – (Sumy region) - stores materials about the history of the Cossack regiments of the Sumy region.
" On March 9th, during the attack on Okhtyrka, a small town in the Sumy region, shelling destroyed the local history museum. Housed in a building erected in the first half of the 19th Century, the Okhtyrka City Museum was a typical small museum exhibiting local flora and fauna, family heirlooms, folk art, and documents relating to the Okhtyrka Cossack Regiment of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Ironically, the pride of the museum was a collection of materials about the Nazi resistance movement from the Second World War, a subject near and dear to the hearts of Vladimir Putin and the ideologists of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. There’s an excellent word for this kind of museum in German: “Heimatmuseum,” which embodies the sense of “home” and “homeland.” There’s no more Okhtyrka “Heimatmuseum:” no more antique farm tools, no more yellowing photographs of heroic partisans. The intricate old embroideries have been reduced to ashes" [Konstantin Akinsha March 13 — A lost museum in Okhtyrka, and an unholy attack on the Holy Mountains].
8) Trostyanetsky Museum and Exhibition Centre, the main house museum of the estate L.E. Koenig (building from the late XVIII century – 1870) – (Sumy region). Trostaniets was occupied by troops of the 1st to 26th March 2022. The city was the site of some stomach-churning abuse (see here too which places the blame on a shift in policies to the arrival of units of separatist fighters brought in from the southeast). In this time, damage was done to a number of historical buildings (including the Baroque 'Round Yard'). The early 20th century (Art Nouveau) house of the estate manager Leopold Koenig, where the Krasnotrostyanets Forest Research Station was located, was burnt down [Retreating from Trostyanets, the occupiers set fire to a monument of national importance March 30th 2022]. I am not clear why this is listed by UNESCO as a museum, but it seems to have housed a herbarium

8a) The Golitsyn Palace in Trostaniets is also reported to have been destroyed. It is not stated what happened to the artworks in the gallery there, most reports concentrate on it being "the villa where Tchaikovsky stayed" and it being a chocolate museum.

Southern Region (Occupied from the end of February 2022 until today)

Especially heavy shelling in Mariupol damaged many thousands of buildings, including the nominal 30 of cultural importance in the UNESCO list.

9) Mariupol Museum of Local Lore (Donetsk region) – The museum, in the city centre, was reportedly almost entirely destroyed and burned down by Russian bombing during the Siege of Mariupol.[NBC NEWS Mariupol's history museum survived WWII, but not Russia's bombardment, "Mariupol museum staff work to recover exhibits damaged by bombing". Australian Broadcasting Corporation 27th April 2022:
Employees of the local history museum in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol are working to recover exhibits after a fire caused by Russian shelling damaged the building. Frequent bombings have meant the museum's building has been almost entirely destroyed, with many exhibits partially or completely burned. Some exhibits have also disappeared, with allegations of looting from rebel Donetsk authorities. [...] Exhibits have been temporarily moved to another museum to carry out restoration work, and staff hope to return all the items to the Mariupol museum once the building is rebuilt.
Another really sad report with photos of the empty abandoned and unguarded building from Komsolomolskaya Pravda by pro-Kremilin photojournalist Vladimir Velengurin ( Ничего, кроме пепла: Как сейчас выглядит разбитый Мариупольский музей, 28 April 2022):
Of the more than fifty thousand exhibits, only two thousand artifacts were saved and brought to the Donetsk Museum for temporary storage. [...] Two shells hit the end of the building. A fire broke out, almost the entire museum burned down. Now there is an announcement hanging on the doors on a white standard sheet: “The Museum is protected by the DPR.” I knock on the door - in response, silence. [...] During the Great Patriotic War, the Nazis in Mariupol did not have time to destroy the museum. But the current fascists destroyed it now.
Unfortunately, in the context of the article - lingering as it does on the disrespect paid to the memorials of the Soviet past - he apparently means the Ukrainians are themselves to blame for the destruction of the museum - which he is at pains to point out was also created in the Soviet Union. That really seems a bit bonkers to me.

10) Mariupol Semashka street, 19 [House of Culture named after Karl Marx and Museum of the History of the Ilyich metallurgical plant here]. (Donetsk region)
May 8th 2022. The shelling partially destroyed the facades, load-bearing walls, roof and ceiling of the old building of the joint-stock company "Nikopol", built in the late XIX century (not registered), which housed the House of Culture named after Karl Marx, the Museum of History and the Library of the trade union of the “Ilyich” plant.
11) Historical and Architectural Museum "Popov Manor" Vasylivka (Zaporizhzhya Region) (Historical and architectural museum reserve "Sadyba Popova", a Gothic Revival-style historical manor (built in 1864) that housed exhibits of local art, WW2 history, Ukrainian ethnography and life on the estate. It was only fully opened in January 2022 (Zaporizhzhya region). On March 7, 2022 Russian invaders shelled the area around the Popov Manor Historical and Architectural Museum. As a result of the shelling, the stable building was damaged (photos show that the ground floor window openings were closed with concrete block walling. On March 13, 2022,
"The Popov Manor Historical and Architectural Museum was looted by the Russian occupiers, which they had previously damaged by shelling. The director of the museum, Anna Golovko, said that the military of the Russian army took away "everything that could be taken in hand and bags." The occupiers smashed and trampled office equipment. In addition, they smashed windows and broke down all doors, as well as destroyed everything in their path.".
See also "V Zaporozhskoy oblasti rossiyskiye okkupanty razgrabili muzey: odin iz trofeyev - mramornyy unitaz - In the Zaporozhye region, Russian invaders plundered a museum: one of the trophies is a marble toilet Posted on 14 March 2022:
"Later, the director of the Department of Culture and Information Policy of the Zaporozhye Regional State Administration Vlad Moroko noted that among the exhibits stolen from the "Popov Manor" was a marble toilet. "For the first time, this toilet was stolen by the Bolsheviks. Later, one of the descendants of the thieves" returned "the artifact to the museum. And again, the newest invaders steal the ill-fated toilet !!! Why !!! I do not understand !!! Horde, just Horde !!! ", - the director of department wrote.
This was a time when soldiers from the Asiatic part and outlying regions of the RF were being used as cannon fodder in the invasion and stealing everyday items such as Adidas shoes and washing machines, allegedly because they did not have easy access to such goods where they had come from.

[12) [Not on the list] Melitopol Museum of Local Lore. Building relatively undamaged, there is currently controversy over the status of the artefacts stored by museum staff in a cellar for safety during military activity that were later recovered by the new (Russian appointed) staff of the museum. I have written about this in several posts on this blog.

Crimean Penisula (Occupied from the end of February 2014 until today) 

Totally missing from this list are the museums and cultural institutions in Crimea that were occupied or damaged in the first stages of this War (2014) or subsequently. The same goes for any in Luhansk (UNESCO uses the Russian spelling). We seem to have information on recent looting of at least one museum in Crimea (though this may have occurred before the 2014 annexation) 

It seems worth attempting a summary. five Museums were hit by shells or bombs during combat (or were deliberately destroyed - Trostaniets) and were completely or partially burnt: (1) Ivankiv Museum [some artefacts believed to have been saved by staff], (6) Hryhorii Skovoroda National Literary Memorial Museum – Skovorodynivka [the collection had been evacuated when the war began], (7) Okhtyrka City Museum of Local Lore [exhibits inside reduced to ashes], (8) Trostaniets Museum, Koenig house [fate of any collection unknown] and Golitsyn Palace in [fate of any of the collection unknown].

Other buildings were damaged by shelling or air strikes: (2) Borodyanka Museum of Local Lore was hit by an air strike [no information about losses to the collection], (3) Chernihiv Military Historical Museum, façade damaged [collections evacuated beforehand to a secure location], (4) Chernihiv Regional Art Museum building damaged [collections evacuated beforehand to a secure location], (5) Kharkiv Art Museum, building damaged [collections evacuated beforehand to a secure location], (9) Mariupol Museum of Local Lore building heavily damaged [parts of collection evacuated to Doniets, some destroyed in situ (?)], (10) Mariupol Museum of the History of the Ilyich metallurgical plant [fate of collection unknown], (11) Vasylivka Historical and Architectural Museum "Popov Manor" badly damaged [heavy looting of the building in general], (12) Melitopol Museum of Local Lore, building more or less undamaged [collections hidden in secure place].

I really do not see here any firm evidence (from what we know so far) that these collections are being selectively looted by the Russian invader as has been suggested in a number of recent sensationalist  media accounts. We need clarity and understanding about what is happening to cultural property in this war, not made-up stories and propaganda. 

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