Sunday 19 June 2022

More Sensationalist and Superficial Claims on Organized Russian Looting to Order in Ukraine

Possibly it is hard to be taken seriously as a journalist if your first name is Barbie, I don't know, but it certainly is not helping if your reporting is as sensationalist and air-headed as this one is (Barbie Latza Nadeau, ' IT’S A STICKUP Russia Is Pulling Off a Massive Art Heist in Ukraine' The Daily Beast Jun. 18, 2022).
Museum curators are hiding out in basements across Ukraine trying to protect the nation’s priceless cultural heritage from Russian invaders.[...] So far there are no specially trained armies in Ukraine to protect treasures from the precision Russian art thieves working under the cover of war to empty museums and destroy important pieces of Ukraine’s cultural heritage. There are just brave museum curators in regions where the Russians have seized control doing everything they can to hide and fortify their art and antiquities, using supplies smuggled in from the West to help them crate up paintings and sandbag statues. Since Russia began its invasion in February, 250 cultural institutions have been targeted by Russian munitions [...] Thousands of important museums pieces have been destroyed during the bombing of Mariupol and elsewhere.
This is just superficial/uncritical research coupled with bad writing, giving misleading results. 

- nobody "smuggled" or had to smuggle in supplies "from the West" (eh, Ukraine's the other side of the Caspian somewhere, is it?). Ukrainian conservators have materials, but needed more in the light of this unexpected threat. 

- Very few countries in her all-superior "West" have or had "specially trained armies to protect the nation's priceless cultural heritage". 

- Thieves steal, the ones destroying cultural heritage are not "thieves".

As for "targeting" X-number of cultural institutions, I'd like to see that set against number of buildings hit, people's houses, shops, places of work generally. In the first four weeks of the War alone (24/2 to 24/3) "at least 4,431 residential buildings, 92 factories and warehouses, 378 schools, 138 healthcare institutions, 12 airports and seven thermal power and hydroelectric power plants" had been damaged, destroyed or seized, 8265 km of road needed reconstruction and 260 bridges. At least 95% of Mariupol has been destroyed by fighting, largely as a result of the Russian bombing campaigns (and just one of those tens of thousands of buildings was the museum) and by the middle of April city officials reported that up to 20,000 civilians had been killed (not to mention those who fled). In Kharkiv alone, some 600 buildings were destroyed (and one Museum had its windows blown out, but exhibits were not damaged). In the siege of Chernihiv (whence came four of the refugees currently sheltering with my family here in Poland), 70% of the city has been destroyed as a result of Russian bombing and shelling (in which the Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities was hit, but it seems the exhibits survived). This Times of Israel article describes the shelling. Not all of these strikes were deliberately targeting the buildings they hit  (or  were Russian - the missile mentioned was launched from neighbouring rogue state Belarus). Also some actual targets (Mariopol Theatre for example) may not have been hit because of their cultural role, but because of the numbers of civilians seeking shelter there.

Without minimising the cultural losses, the word "targeting" really needs better justification here. The author of this article here totally downplays the enormity of the destruction as a whole and simply focuses on one aspect - and I would say is missing the point entirely. 

I feel very strongly that all this hand-wringing heritagey-waffle and lamentation about 'cultural genocide' should take into account that genocide is above all something done to living people. And frankly a few museums and sports venues hardly matter in that context. 

Ms Latza Nadeau then goes on to supply the concrete facts that she feels supports her hyperbole:
In Melitopol, Scythian gold artifacts worth millions that date back to the fourth century B.C. were stolen from crates the museum had hidden them in. Brian Daniels, an anthropologist in Virginia, is heading a project that monitors the destruction of cultural heritage in Ukraine. “There is now very strong evidence this is a purposive Russian move, with specific paintings and ornaments targeted and taken out to Russia,” he told The Daily Beast. His team saw surveillance video supplied by Ukraine in which a Russian art expert in a white lab coat removed the gold with the precision of a surgeon, careful not to destroy them.
Hmmm. It's this again. In fact, we all saw this video when it was online (it seems to have been taken down) and it shows the unpacking of artefacts - all the other interpretation is precisely that. I've examined the Melitopol case three times before (here, here and here) and really do not see the firm evidence that should be there to support the interpretation being put on it. Precisely what Dr Daniels "heads" or does, or where he gets his information are all unclear to me.  He cites "information" from  unnamed "Ukrainian officials" - but given that some of them seem to have been involved in spreading false stories (see here compared with here) it is a shame that he does not give more precise sources. 

Another fact that Barbie Latza Nadeau uses to support her narrative:
Among the destroyed art are 25 pieces by Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko which were in the Ivankiv museum near Kyiv. Ukrainian officials say the art was taken by Russian troops before they destroyed the museum in a missile attack.
As for "targeting", although the museum building is an isolated building in a park on the riverbank, it is on the outskirts of Ivankiv a major centre right on the route of the advance on Kiev on 24th Feb onwards from the north at the place where it crosses the River Teteriv. In fact it is almost on the route of the infamous 64-km "stalled convoy" with its concentration of troops, and just 990m from the road junction that was the most frequently-reproduced aerial shot of the line of trucks stuck between Hostomel and Prybirs'k. During the 'Battle of Ivankiv', the museum was hit by three missiles. It is entirely possible that during this battle, there were Ukrainian troops taking cover or even firing from the park on the river scarp overlooking the road to Kiev perhaps in the immediate vicinity of some of the buildings here and it was they who were targeted. To jump to the conclusion that it was the museum that was the target of the attack seems to be simply applying a stereotype rather than looking at the situation on the ground in the first two days of this invasion. 

As for her account of looting by Russian troops "before" the missile attack (a story assigned to unnamed "Ukrainian officials")...  I think there is evidence that she's muddling two things here. In a Guardian article that this author may have been using as a source, Charlotte Mullins claims that works of this artist (Марія Оксентіївна Приймаченко 1908–1997) were burnt as Ivankiv’s Historical and Local History Museum caught fire after shelling on  February 25th, 2022. But in the Daily Beast article, the author seems to be garbling this with other reports that they had been removed from the building. Which is true? The latter narrative suggests that all 14 of the museum's works by this artist had been secured in storage before the attack, and when the museum was hit had been evacuated from the burning building. We are even given the names of the individuals that are reported to have saved these items and then hid them from the Russian invader (the army of the Russian Federation left the area by March 31st 2022). They are named as Anatolii Harytonov, and Ihor Nikolaienko - the first is termed in one report the Museum's security guard (but he has the same surname as the Museum's director so presumably a relative (husband?) and another local man (references below). I do not know if they are speakers of Ukrainian or Russian, but they seem hardly likely to be members of the invading "Russian troops". So what is the truth? Is the story about them being saved some kind of morale-boosting propaganda? Or is the story that they were destroyed or stolen outrage-generating propaganda? I can find no independent alternative story that these paintings were removed on or before the 25th February by Russian Federation troops on the way to take Kiev. 

Articles Claiming the Saving of the Maria Prymachenko Paintings from Ivankiv

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