Museums Controversies Ukraine

Bonfire lit on museum steps as violent protests rock Kiev

The National Art Museum of Ukraine has issued an appeal to the warring sides of the escalating political standoff to spare the country’s cultural heritage

Protesters clashed with police in the streets of Kiev this week. Photo: Evgeny Feldman/Associated Press

The National Art Museum of Ukraine has found itself on the frontline of the street battles that have broken out in Kiev in an escalating political standoff between the pro-Russian government and protestors. The museum is located on Hrushevskoho Street, which has turned into a riot zone of Molotov cocktails, stones, rubber bullets, tear gas and flash grenades. Hundreds of people have reportedly been injured and at least 20 protesters have been arrested.

As events escalated this weekend, the museum’s director Maria Zadorozhna and other management issued an appeal to both government officials and opposition leaders, asking them to “remember their responsibility in preserving the cultural heritage of the state [and] refrain from deliberate or accidental actions that may damage the museum and the surrounding territory”.

The Ukrainian National Committee of the International Council of Museums also issued an open letter on Tuesday, 21 January, calling on the warring sides to seek a peaceful settlement and avoid damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage. The museum’s 40,000-strong collection ranges from 12th-century icons to masterpieces of the Ukrainian baroque and works by the avant-garde sculptor Alexander Archipenko and the painter Alexandra Exter.

According to reports from Kiev, the government’s riot police, who have been clashing with increasingly angry protestors, have lit a bonfire directly on the steps of the Neo-Classical 19th-century museum building to try to stay warm in the bitter cold that has gripped the city.

A message posted on the museum’s website on says that “due to events on Hrushevskoho Street”, the exhibitions are closed and “all events scheduled for this week have been cancelled” until further notice.

In an earlier statement, Vladislav Pioro, the chairman of the Ukrainian Center for Museum Development, urged an end to the conflict but added that many museum workers support peaceful protest. He warned that “1,000 years of history of our nation” are threatened by the fighting outside the museum walls.

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