Museums Disasters Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine’s museums told to hide their collections

The country’s culture ministry has ordered institutions to put their works into storage and asked the media to refrain from calling attention to cultural heritage

A shell damaged the Museum of History and Culture in Luhansk, housed in a historic 19th-century building

Culture officials in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine have ordered museums to put their most valuable pieces into storage, and some institutions have closed to the public, as fighting continues between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Ukraine’s culture ministry has also asked that the media refrain from “emphasising objects of cultural heritage” to avoid their being targeted, according to an 8 August statement on the ministry’s website. This comes after reports that two of the city’s museums have been damaged by artillery fire.

The Russian-language website Informator.lg.ug reported in July that a shell had hit and damaged the Museum of History and Culture of Luhansk, housed in a historic 19th-century building. It is not clear who fired the shot, the separatists or Ukrainian forces. Other local media said that the museum, which has a collection of more than 50,000 pieces, suffered significant damage inside as well.

There have also been reports about damage from shellfire to the Luhansk Regional History Museum, which has 180,000 pieces in its collection. According to lg-news.net, the exhibition hall devoted to the Second World War was damaged.

The Kiev-based Ukrainian branch of the International Council of Museums posted an appeal at the end of last month for information about the plight of museums in eastern Ukraine. “We would be grateful for any information regarding the situation of museums and monuments in the area of the anti-terrorist operation,” the statement read. “We periodically have contacts with colleagues from Donetsk, however we do not have contact with Lugansk and other cities. Unfortunately, we are not a militarised unit and do not have the opportunity in the current situation to send specialists there since we are unable to guarantee their safety.”

Officials in Luhansk said in a statement last week that the city is “for all practical purposes in a state of humanitarian catastrophe”, cut off from electricity, water, garbage removal and the Internet. Meanwhile, a controversial Russian humanitarian convoy is approaching southeastern Ukraine, but could be stopped at the border.

Update: Aleksandr Luyanchenko, the mayor of Donetsk, reported on the city website on 21 August, that the roof and walls of the Donetsk Regional History Museum had been destroyed by shellfire early that morning. The Ukrainian newssite Gordonua.com published photos of extensive damage inside and outside the museum. Also on Thursday, police in the Donetsk region reported that they had found a field artillery piece taken from a museum. The historic but inactive object had been abandoned in the town of Krasnogorovka by retreating pro-Russian rebels. Last month, it was reported that separatists stole Second World War weapons from museums and monuments in the region, in an attempt to repair and use them against Ukrainian government forces.

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