“Clearly, the people of Ukraine are the priority; protecting them as much as possible is the most critical. But this is a nation with a recent past that has seen cultural figures and works of art destroyed by previous Soviet administrations. The fear is that the Russians will want to repeat that,” said Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, director of Mystetskyi Arsenal in Kiev, Ukraine's capital. In an editorial published by the portal artnet, Ostrovska-Liuta says she is concerned about colleagues spending the night in underground train stations and the civilian casualties that are already occurring. But preserving the paintings that are part of his country's heritage also weighs heavily on his mind. “Works by Kazimir Malevich, Vasyl Yermylov, Alexander Bogomazov and Anatol Petrytsky and Viktor Zaretsky, to name just a few,” she wrote.
As for Oleksandra Kovalchuk, director of the Odesa Fine Art Museum, there is fear of speaking publicly about what is happening, to avoid Russian invaders or looters: “In almost all museums, workers are sleeping in situ to be able to make some last-minute decisions. time [if necessary]. Unfortunately, I cannot say more.”
For the cultural sector, concern escalates with reports that in Ivankiv, northwest of Kiev, a local museum and its works of art have been set on fire by Russian forces. It was reported that inside the museum were 25 paintings by folk artist Maria Prymachenko, esteemed by Picasso and Chagall. Some of the works, however, were reportedly saved by a local resident who rushed into the burning building to rescue as much as he could. He is believed to have rescued around 10 major works of art from the flames, although it is not yet clear which ones.
Ukraine is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Kiev with its gilded domes and impressive Byzantine frescoes of the Virgin Mary. Another is Lviv's Old Town which, along with the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum, houses the country's most complete collection of medieval sacred art and rare religious manuscripts. The urgency to salvage his books, paintings and other artifacts (among them a thousand-year-old bible decorated with gold thread) left little time to wait for specialized packaging materials. Instead, volunteers make do with crates of whatever wood is available, sometimes even cardboard boxes originally intended for transporting bananas to supermarkets.
CNN news channel reported that Lviv's Armenian Cathedral has removed a medieval wooden sculpture depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for safe storage. Having survived World War II, the giant stained glass windows of Lviv's Latin Cathedral have now been covered with steel plates and many of the city's landmark statues are now encased in bubble wrap.
While endangered artworks must be evacuated, it is probably too late for most of them to now be moved to safer parts of the country or abroad. As a result, Ukrainians are facing a set of difficult logistical issues – already all too familiar to directors of cultural institutions in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.