We’re all watching in horror at the escalating humanitarian crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition to the intense human suffering, Ukraine’s history and cultural heritage have been targeted by Russian missiles. The capital city of Kyiv has a long history—longer than that of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. In fact, the earliest leaders of the Rus people lived in Kyiv and styled themselves as the “Prince of Kyiv” long before there was a Tsar of Russia. They actively traded with the Byzantine Empire and other Middle Eastern and early European countries.
While many of Ukraine’s priceless artifacts reside in Russian museums (taken by the Soviet Union), Ukraine is home to countless historical buildings and artifacts. To see Russia blatantly disregard its duties under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its First Protocol merits investigation by the International Court of Justice for war crimes.
So what do we know?
- The historic site Babi Yar has been damaged by shelling. However, it is not believed to have been a deliberate act on the part of the Russian military but was damaged as a result of the Russian military targeting the tv station and tower. (But it still occurred because of the Russian military’s targeting of civilian sites.)
- The Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum was destroyed by Russian troops. It was the home of archaeological artifacts, history and paintings by Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko.
- Stories are circulating on social media about archives being burned, including important records about Nazi atrocities in Ukraine.
- There are serious concerns about looting. ICOM has issued a statement reminding museums and collectors to watch for looted items appearing on the market.
- Ukrainian museums are reaching out to other museums to ask for help backing up their digital records.
The Ukrainian museum professionals are doing everything they can to secure their collections and many have armed themselves and are staying in their institution to protect it against looters.
You can read ICOM’s statement at https://icom.museum/en/news/statement-russia-invasion-into-ukraine/.