Russia has declared four Ukrainian regions as within its borders after the referenda that the West has declared as a sham. This also means that Ukraine’s cultural riches in cities that are captured are also to become part of Russia.
The Kremlin has announced that dozens of Ukrainian museums will be appropriated by Russia as President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to sign a decree on Friday to annex four regions of the conflict-torn country.
Referenda on accession to the Russian Federation were held in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia territories of Ukraine. The international community, primarily Western countries, have decried the results as doctored.
Russia will become the new owner of thousands of artefacts and heritage items collectively owned by the Ukrainian government and its subsidiaries. Previously, a court case over loaned Scythian gold from Ukraine to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum saw Russia demanding the return of pieces belonging to Crimean museums to the peninsula.
The Art Newspaper notes that Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko told public broadcaster Suspilne in August that they were unable to evacuate museums quickly before the Russians came in.
“What is needed is not the opposition of museum directors, as we have often seen in those regions where hostilities have already taken place, but cooperation with local authorities,” he said. “We don't have the budget to evacuate anyone.”
The Art Newspaper has prepared a list of museums in each of the four regions that have allegedly voted to join the Russian Federation.
Putin took over the region, already rife with Russian-backed separatism, in late February 2022.
For example, early 20th-century artist Arkhip Kuindzhi who was born in the city and who has a museum dedicated to his work, according to Art Newspaper, “was initially thought to be completely destroyed after an air strike. Surviving works from the Museum of Local History and the Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol were moved to the Donetsk Regional Museum of Local History.”
In February 2022, The Donetsk Republican Art Museum’s chief curator Olga Zagoruiko told Russia’s Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper that the collections were securely stored. She did not elaborate on whether they would be moved to Russia.
The Donetsk Local History Museum’s deputy director Lina Garmash presented a paper in September 2022 in St. Petersburg that focused on evacuation plans if disaster struck.
A senior researcher at Horlivka Art Museum Olena Pekh was captured by pro-Russian forces in 2018, and was sentenced to 13 years in prison, accused of espionage.
Compared to Easter Island statues, stone babas, sacred statues in the capital city of Luhansk, date as far back as the 9th century.
A delegation from the Luhansk Art Museum visited colleagues in Russia’s Voronezh five years ago to exchange views on the work of cultural institutions “in extreme economic and political conditions.”
The Art Newspaper also draws attention to a social media page of the Luhansk Regional Museum of Local Lore which references the referendum and “Heroes of the Luhansk People’s Republic.”
The Luhansk Museum of History of Culture, boasting a collection comprising 50,000 items, was damaged by Russian shelling in 2014, as can be seen on the Ukrainian government’s Ukrainian Institute site.
The Black Sea region Kherson went under Russian rule in March 2022.
A Russian state television report from June 2022 referred to the city as “the Russian city of Kherson”, claiming the Museum of Local History, home to more than 170,000 items, had been used to promote Ukrainian nationalist policies. Ukraine has cut off ties with museum director Tatyana Bratchenko for being a Russian sympathiser.
The director of the Kherson Regional Art Museum Alina Dotsenko said in July 2022 that Russia had brought in a new director for the institution.
The city of Melitopol, including its Museum of Local History, is under Russian control. The director of the museum Leila Ibrahimova, “was briefly kidnapped.”
A Russian-speaking man in a white lab coat has been identified as Evgeny Gorlachev and as per media reports, he was appointed the museum’s new director, attempted to strongarm museum staffer Galina Kucher at gunpoint to tell him the storage site of the museum’s Scythian gold collection.
The Scythian gold collection was later stolen, and as The Art Newspaper points out, “Gorlachev is now in charge of recruitment for a volunteer battalion to fight Ukraine.”