KYIV, Ukraine – At 4:30 a.m. Thursday, Ihor Poshyvailo, director of the Freedom Museum here, was awoken by an explosion.
He rushed out into the street and saw the plane flying overhead, he said. An hour later, he was meeting with officials from Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture to find ways to protect their collections.
“We had a plan for what to do before the war, but now that it’s a war, it’s completely different,” Poshyvailo said.
By the time they considered evacuating the museum’s most prized objects from Kyiv, the roads were congested with Ukrainians running west, and they realized that wouldn’t be possible. does, Poshyvailo said.
Although the talk of the conflict in Ukraine has been building for weeks, some of the country’s museums were badly prepared when shelling and missile attacks began and Russian troops Thursday morning entry. Even if museums and other cultural sites are unlikely to be direct targets of Russian aggression, curators are concerned about the security of their collections should hostilities escalate. scale and penetrate urban areas. Some fear that Russian nationalists could attack establishments that offer stories of Ukrainian history and culture.
Ukraine is home to thousands of museums, ranging from small, private institutions to large state-owned collections in the capital Kyiv and Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea. The state collections include important Ukrainian and Russian artworks; classical and Byzantine artifacts; and paintings by Bellini, Goya, Rubens and Jacques-Louis David.
The Freedom Museum, established in 2014, displays a collection of some 4,000 objects associated with Ukraine’s pro-democracy struggles, including banners and artwork. Poshyvailo said he was concerned about some of the items if Russian troops entered Kyiv before the objects were moved to safety.
“Our museum is proof of Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” he said. “Of course I’m afraid.”
State museums, including the Freedom Museum, need government permission to remove items from their buildings, a process that involves a lot of paperwork. Poshyvailo said he applied to do so earlier this month, but other museums have not, and that the government has done nothing to make it easier for them as tensions have risen in recent weeks.
Poshyvailo said he is moving the items from the museum’s collection to storage, but declined to provide further details.
He refused to blame the Ukrainian government for a lack of preparation or guidance. “It was not the government that did this,” he said. “It’s Putin.”
Another Kyiv museum that curators fear 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 the war with Russia in the east of the country that began in 2014. Yuriy Savchuk, the museum’s director, said he and his staff had been working for 12 hours since 6 a.m. on Thursday. to move the museum’s most important exhibits to a safe location. It was “a great feat,” he said.
The museum, located under Kyiv’s famous Motherland monument, was a possible target for missile attacks, he said.
Aleksandra Kovalchuk, director of Odesa Art Museum, said in a WhatsApp message that museum staff are “doing the only thing we can” to protect its collection. That means, she says, “hiding the art in the basement. Trying to sort out security. Barbed wire.”
The collection of the Odessa Museum of Fine Arts includes more than 10,000 objects from Russian and Ukrainian religious icons, dating back to the 16th century, and works by contemporary Ukrainian artists. Its events director, Ulyana Dovgan, said the museum was closed on Thursday. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said that Russian troops landed in Ho Chi Minh City.
Sergiy Lebedynsky, director of the Museum of the Kharkiv School of Photography, in an area near the Russian border that has been bombed throughout the day, said in an email on Monday that much of his museum’s collection is in progress. was stored in Germany while the museum was being renovated. He will likely “have to evacuate the rest of our collection this week,” he said. Lebedynsky did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Another museum that has removed items from the country is War Childhood Museum, an organization based in Bosnia and Herzegovina that organizes temporary programs around the world that explore children’s experiences of conflict. It has more than 300 items in Kyiv that it collected after Russia annexed Ukrainian territory in 2014. It has displayed those items at temporary exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad, including one Recent exhibitions in Kherson, a city annexed by Russia near Crimea.
Jasminko Halilovic, the museum’s director, said by phone that he went to Kyiv last week and brought with him about 40 items needed for future exhibitions when he returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina. But he said about 300 other items remained in Kyiv, as well as three full-time employees of the organization in the country. “They want to stay,” Halilovic said. “It is their country. They have family and friends. And it also seems to be a privilege to leave, when not everyone else can.”
The situation for Ukraine’s museums changed rapidly on Thursday, including the issue of which staff would be on duty to look after them. That was clear in a phone interview with Poshyvailo of the Freedom Museum. At the end of the call, Poshyvailo said he had just learned that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine had called on well-built men under 60 to take up arms during the conflict.
Poshyvailo, 54, said he was ready to fight if needed. But first, he had to make sure his collection was safe.
Valerie Hopkins reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Alex Marshall from London.
https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/02/24/world/russia-attacks-ukraine/ukraine-museums-russia-attacks Live updates: When explosions were reported in Kyiv, Ukraine’s President said he was the number 1 target