The Kyiv Museum Employees Who Stayed To Guard Cherished Artefacts

The Kyiv Museum Employees Who Stayed To Guard Cherished Artefacts

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Kyiv, Ukraine – Bohdan Patryliak, deputy director of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, doesn’t advocate a food regimen of Snickers, Mars bars and white-bread sandwiches.

This had been his staple meal for greater than a month when the museum’s grandiose places of work, as soon as a centre of educational analysis, have been unexpectedly transformed right into a fortress defending a few of Ukraine’s most beneficial artefacts after Russian forces tried to storm Kyiv on February 24, 2022.

As Russian troops started to occupy the capital’s western suburbs the place Patryliak lived, his mom and sister fled to the relative security of western Ukraine. So, the softly spoken and erudite 50-year-old made what he believed was a “rational choice” by staying to guard the museum he cherished and feared could be a goal of Russian aggression.

Patryliak hunkered down in his workplace and stuffed his days with the bodily arduous process of dismantling the museum’s exhibitions and packaging probably the most useful artefacts, such because the Golden Pectoral from Tovsta Mohyla, a spherical breast ornament of a Scythian king unearthed by a Ukrainian archaeologist in 1971, in addition to in depth gold and silver numismatic collections for a possible evacuation.

As Russian troops edged nearer to Kyiv, he admits to questioning if an evacuation would ever come, particularly since saboteur teams, he says, working for Russia and tasked with finishing up assassinations and different rebel actions behind enemy strains, have been working within the surrounding space throughout the early levels of the battle.

Patryliak cuts a slight determine as he sits right now in his workplace, behind him two imposing stately home windows overlooking Kyiv’s historic Podil neighbourhood. He opens his desk drawer and shuffles round some papers earlier than pulling out a small bullet which had flown by means of one of many exhibition corridor’s home windows and he believes was a results of crossfire between Ukrainian army forces and saboteurs.

He was not alone throughout this time. The museum’s director Fedir Androschuk and a handful of employees had additionally stayed behind. They quickly shaped a each day routine that he says, “distracted us from our fears and was much more useful than staying home and waiting to be bombed”.

Safeguarding historic artefacts

Patryliak was notably involved with defending the museum’s useful Scythian gold artefacts, which he feared could be taken by Russian troops as “trophies” in the event that they reached the museum.

Scythian artwork was produced by historic Eurasian nomadic tribes out of gold and infrequently depicts animals and legendary creatures. In latest years, a set of greater than 300 Scythian gold objects had been the topic of bitter authorized wrangling between Ukraine and Russia. The artefacts had been loaned from Crimean museums to an Amsterdam museum earlier than Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula in 2014 and subsequently requested their switch again to occupied Crimea. However, in October 2021, a Dutch appeals court docket dominated in favour of Ukraine.

In late April, Ivan Fyodorov, the mayor of Melitopol, a metropolis in southeastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, introduced that Russia had seized one of many “largest and most expensive collections” of Scythian gold within the nation.

Patryliak and Androschuk weren’t simply nervous about high-value artefacts but in addition people who symbolised “Ukrainian statehood”, one thing he says is “not recognised by the Russian regime”.

In July 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin printed a now-infamous 5,300-word essay claiming that Russians and Ukrainians have been “one people — a single whole”. Then, in a televised deal with to the nation on February 21, 2022, Putin dismissed that Ukraine had any “real statehood”; as an alternative, the nation was a part of Russia’s “own history, culture, spiritual space”.

From the outset of the battle, Russia had began to destroy websites of Ukrainian cultural heritage, together with the Ivankiv museum, situated 80km (50 miles) north of Kyiv. The museum, which burned down, contained 25 work by people artists and an icon of Ukrainian id, Maria Prymachenko.

“Russia invented the pretext that Russia was ‘de-Nazifying’ Ukraine, so we knew they would try and destroy anything related to Ukrainian history,” Patryliak says.

Patryliak highlights “the artefacts that included the image of Ivan Mazepa” as notably in danger. The regional governor of modern-day Ukraine deserted his allegiance to the Russian Tsar Peter I in 1708 and sided with Sweden’s Charles XII within the Great Northern War. During the next centuries, the legacy of Mazepa has bifurcated between an anti-Russian traitor and a logo of Ukrainian nationwide resistance.

In mid-March, a top-secret evacuation course of started. Heavily guarded vans arrived to take away the artefacts that Patryliak and his colleagues had rigorously packaged.

A Photo Of Oleksandr Nikoriak Holding An Umbrella Over His Head In The Rain.
Oleksandr Nikoriak, the pinnacle of heritage safety for Kyiv metropolis council, stands on the glass bridge that overlooks the Dnieper river [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

‘There is no more friendship’

Just over a kilometre southeast of the museum and overlooking the meandering Dnieper river stands an imposing, 50-metre (164-foot) excessive, rainbow-shaped arch unveiled in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the us. Heavy rain falls on the arch’s shiny titanium, which sits atop a public area, flanked by the scenic Khreshchatyk park and Kyiv’s famed glass bridge.

Previously generally known as the Peoples’ Friendship Arch, it had turn into a divisive image after Russia annexed Crimea and Russian-backed separatists captured elements of the Donbas in 2014. Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the construction was renamed the Arch of Freedom of the Ukrainian People by the Kyiv metropolis council.

Oleksandr Nikoriak, the dapper, plainspoken head of the Kyiv metropolis council’s heritage safety workplace, shows little sentimentality when commenting on the identify change. “There is no more friendship, and we don’t need a structure that suggests that we do,” he says, standing beneath the arch.

An occasional ray of daylight breaks by means of the heavy cloud and highlights a black lightning-shaped line on the prime of the arch. Nikoriak, wearing a black padded coat and holding a big umbrella, says that activists painted it in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the battle started within the Donbas. It’s one thing that he had authorized. “It did not ruin it, but it gave a new understanding.”

Under the arch sits a sequence of rectangular metal-cased blocks the place an eight-metre (26 foot) tall, giant bronze statue of a Ukrainian and a Russian standing collectively and holding a Soviet Order of Friendship as soon as stood.

Authorities eliminated the monument on April 26, by accident decapitating the statue of the Russian employee within the course of. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, who was current on the dismantling, stated on the time, “You don’t kill your brother. You don’t rape your sister. You don’t destroy your friend’s country. That’s why, today, we have dismantled this monument, once created as a sign of friendship between Ukraine and Russia”.

Nikoriak walks throughout the glass bridge accompanied by Olena Chernesa, a realized and energetic mission supervisor on the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in direction of the luxurious greenery of Volodymyr Hill situated on the steep financial institution of the river. Suspended greater than 20 metres (66 ft) within the air and with a clear flooring, it provides giddy views of the Kyiv skyline. Today, in distinction to the standard crowds having fun with the sights, a lone jogger braving a torrential downpour plods previous Nikoriak.

A Photo Of Olena Chernesa.
Olena Chernesa, who works for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, believes Russia is ‘trying to steal Ukraine’s historical past and rewrite it of their method’ [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

Possible aerial assaults

Unperturbed by the rain and with soaking footwear and go well with trousers, Nikoriak begins to recount how, after evacuating town throughout the outbreak of battle, he had spent 10 stressed days within the west earlier than the Kyiv City State Administration requested him to return and assist defend town’s cultural heritage from potential aerial assaults. Eager to assist defend his metropolis, he instantly travelled again to the capital.

However, on his journey, he was pressured to examine into an affordable resort in Vinnytsia, situated in west-central Ukraine, as a result of curfew restrictions launched to guard civilians in opposition to air strikes and assist police forces establish saboteur teams working at night time.

He remembers waking up and staring on the wall in entrance of him the place a portray of the bronze statue of Volodymyr the Great, who had dominated Kyiv within the 10th century, hung. Kyiv’s oldest sculptural monument depicts Volodymyr with a cross atop a 16-metre (52-foot) excessive ornate Byzantine-style pedestal. “I knew, at that moment, this statue is where I need to start,” Nikoriak says.

Volodymyr is commemorated as a saint in Ukraine and Russia and is one other instance of divergent interpretations within the two nations’ histories. For many Ukrainians, Volodymyr the Great is a logo of nationwide id, having transformed the nation to Christianity, then generally known as the Kyivan Rus earlier than Moscow existed. He additionally seems on the nation’s smallest banknote denomination (one hryvnia). However, in Russia, he is called Vladimir the Great and is widely known as having transformed Russia to Christianity and is the topic of a bigger statue erected near the Kremlin six years in the past.

Princess Olga, St. Andrew The First-Called And The Educators Cyril And Methodius: The Statues Of Princess Olga, St. Andrew The First-Called And The Educators Cyril And Methodius Are Protected By 4,000 Sandbags That Weigh Up To 170 Tonnes According To Oleksandr Nikoriak, The Head Of Heritage Protection In Kyiv.
The statues of Princess Olga (the biggest mound), Saint Andrew the Apostle and the educators Cyril and Methodius are protected by 4,000 sandbags that weigh as much as 170 tonnes [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

Chernesa sees this for instance of Russia “trying to steal Ukraine’s history and rewrite it in their way”. She is presently engaged on a doctorate associated to Ukrainian artwork and describes Ukraine as not simply combating to guard its land but in addition “to preserve and take back its history from Russia”.

As they reach the tip of the bridge, Nikoriak factors up on the statue of Volodymyr, now shrouded in protecting plastic and the pedestal surrounded by inexperienced metallic sheets and layers of scaffolding.

Nikoriak describes the problem of defending town’s monuments as unprecedented. “I didn’t have anyone to take experience from so volunteers provided their own calculations and methods, which they developed along the way,” he says.

These volunteers included engineers and specialists who helped to calculate how a lot weight every monument may bear and subsequently what materials could be greatest to make use of for its safety. He is proud that “not a single cent was spent from the Kyiv budget”, with all funding supplied by “volunteers, businesses and friends who wanted to help”.

He says every monument with distinctive dimensions and made with completely different supplies introduced a brand new problem. For instance, Volodymyr the Great’s statue had a base that would not take a heavy load, so a bespoke metallic casing construction was designed and constructed on the website. Others, just like the monuments to Princess Olga, the primary recorded lady who dominated the Kyivan Rus, Saint Andrew the Apostle and the Byzantine educators Cyril and Methodius situated on the standard Mikhaylovskaya sq., might be lined with greater than 4,000 sandbags.

‘Wars destroy culture’

As professionals and civilians rush to protect the reminiscence of their cultural heritage, a number of 3D mapping initiatives have sprung up throughout Ukraine.

Backup Ukraine permits anybody to scan buildings and monuments that haven’t been destroyed as full 3D fashions utilizing an app referred to as Polycam on their cellphone. Since it launched in April, the app has been downloaded greater than 6,000 occasions, with round 10 scans of culturally related heritage processed each day.

In Kharkiv, within the northeast of the nation that has seen heavy combating and devastating ariel bombardments, a workforce of consultants, together with overseas volunteers, are drawing up detailed 3D maps of town’s cultural sights. Experts estimate greater than 100 of Kharkiv’s roughly 500 listed buildings have been hit by Russian strikes.

As of July 18, UNESCO has verified harm to 164 websites throughout the nation. The Donetsk area, within the southeast of Ukraine, has probably the most confirmed harm to cultural websites, together with the Mariupol drama theatre, which, in keeping with an Amnesty report, was struck by two 500kg Russian bombs in March, “killing at least a dozen people and likely many more”.

Oleg Polovynko, an easygoing 38-year-old IT supervisor for the Kyiv City Council, pulls out his laptop computer at his places of work on Khreshchatyk Street and opens town’s web site. He scrolls by means of VR excursions of buildings, monuments and a number of other of Kyiv’s opulent Stalinist-era metro stations. The slick, user-friendly characteristic was launched in 2021 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as a method for folks to expertise the cultural heritage of Kyiv nearly. After February 24, Polovynko says the VR excursions of cultural websites took on a brand new life. “Before it was for tourism, but wars destroy culture, so we needed to save our history,” he says.

The VR tourism characteristic, partly created with drone footage, now contains digital excursions of missile strikes, which Polovynko describes as “part of Kyiv’s history” and which may present battle crime and investigation groups with important proof.

A Photo Of The National Museum Of The History Of Ukraine Employees Recording And Logging Artifacts.
Employees on the National Museum of the History of Ukraine meticulously file and log varied artefacts [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

Polovynko and his workforce even have been repurposing the present digital platforms. “Our main goal before was to increase the quality of life for citizens, but there was a new goal after the war, and that was to survive in the city,” he says.

Kyiv City Council’s standard Kyiv Digital smartphone app now has new army performance. For instance, a characteristic that used to show free parking areas now supplies info relating to gas provides and the situation of bomb shelters round Kyiv.

The council’s IT workforce has additionally repurposed the e-democracy perform of the app often used for native elections and voting as a “de-Russification” programme.

In the app, 6.5 million Ukrainian residents signed on utilizing a BankID, an digital identification system, and voted for various names for greater than 300 areas named after Russians or related to a interval of Russian historical past. Places earmarked to be renamed embody Pushkinska Street in central Kyiv, named after the Russian poet and author of the romantic period, Aleksandr Pushkin. The avenue will probably be renamed Yevhen Chykalenko after a writer and activist throughout the early 20th century who helped discovered Ukraine’s first parliament.

The alternate options supplied to the general public are sometimes Ukrainian cultural figures or nationwide heroes corresponding to Roman Ratushnyi, a Kyiv environmental activist and soldier lately killed combating in japanese Ukraine.

In latest weeks Ukraine’s parliament has handed legal guidelines each limiting the printing and import of Russian books and banning music created after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union from being performed on media and public transport. The authorities additionally elevated quotas on Ukrainian-language speech and music content material in TV and radio broadcasts.

Exhibition Russian Boot: The National Museum Of The History Of Ukraine Is Now Exhibiting Objects Found In Liberated Areas Around Kyiv, Including The Charred Remains Of A Russian Soldier’s Boot.
The National Museum of the History of Ukraine is now exhibiting objects present in liberated areas round Kyiv, together with the charred stays of a Russian soldier’s boot [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

‘Prepared for anything’

Patryliak understands that Ukraine is living by means of an important part in historical past, so his function as an historian and museum director isn’t just to guard its artefacts however to additionally spotlight the destruction it has been pressured to endure.

Therefore, Androschuk and himself have now curated an exhibit which shows objects left by Russian troopers throughout their occupation of the areas round Kyiv. They embody stretchers stained with coagulated blood, packing containers of meals rations emblazoned with the distinctive star brand utilized by the Russian army, and private objects corresponding to passports and household photos.

An analogous, extra in depth exhibition titled “Crucified Ukraine” is displaying at Kyiv’s National Museum of the History of Ukraine within the Second World War, situated by the 62-metre (203 foot) tall Motherland statue within the scenic Pechersk district. The exhibition features a meticulously created reproduction of a three-room bomb shelter in Hostomel, a city approximately 20km (12 miles) northwest of Kyiv, the place 120 folks spent 37 days underground.

Patryliak says on the morning of February 24, “the Ukrainian people did not think a full-scale war would happen”. This meant there was no plan throughout the cultural establishments of what to do, and so they needed to adapt shortly.

However, his wartime expertise has given him function. As he walks across the museum’s spacious again rooms, members of his workforce, who he describes as “like family”, painstakingly file, {photograph} and log varied artefacts stored within the area. Now, he says, if Russians return, they are going to be “prepared for anything”.


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