Art museum

Kharkiv Art Museum staff work desperately to save masterpieces

Workers in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv are trying to save around 25,000 works of art from the city’s museum from Russian bombardments.

As the war on Ukraine stretches past two weeks, Russian forces continue to encircle many towns across the country. This includes Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and a key industrial hub. As Russian bombs continue to fall, the citizens of the city try to prevent Kharkiv from being turned to rubble. This effort is particularly evident at the Kharkiv Art Museum.

While the museum building itself remains intact, photos show the majority of the windows were blown out by a number of airstrikes. In addition, the museum would be covered in a layer of dust and debris.

The museum is described by the Kharkiv tourism website as “one of the oldest museums in Kharkov and one of the most valuable in Ukraine” and contains “unique masterpieces of painting, sculpture, graphics, Ukrainian and world arts and crafts”. This includes “more than 250 works of Ukrainian and Russian art from the [19th] and [20th] centuries,” the website reads.

Staff at the Kharkiv Art Museum in Ukraine’s second largest city are working to save countless works of art from the continuous bombardments of Russian invaders. The pieces in the collection are estimated at more than 25,000, including many by Russian artists. Here, the abandoned Kharkiv Science Library near the Art Museum can be seen.
Sergei Bobok/Getty

As efforts to save the work continue, Maryna Filatova, head of the museum’s foreign arts department, spoke with Reuters about collection.

“There are more than 25,000 items in our collection,” Filatova told Reuters. “The collection of the Kharkiv Art Museum is one of the largest in Ukraine, one of the most valuable.”

Ironically, Filatova said that although the Russians continue to drop bombs on the museum, many pieces in the collection were created by Russian artists, not Ukrainians.

“It’s just the irony that we were saving Russian artists, paintings by Russian artists, from their own nation,” Filatova said. “It’s just barbarism.”

Filatova also noted that the blown windows made it impossible to control the temperature and humidity inside the building, which is essential for the preservation of older paintings. She said that one of the museum’s most prized paintings, Response of the Zaporozhian Cossacks by the Russian painter Ilya Repin, had to be dismantled and stored, which could damage the work.

“Repin’s painting, basically, shouldn’t be out of place,” Filatova said. “Temperature or humidity conditions are not recommended. Any movement should be avoided. We are handling it with great care, but there is not a single window intact in this room.”

“Thank God there is no damage anyone can see. The real damage we will only be able to assess in calm weather, when it is calm,” Filatova said. “Workers, women who are still in town, we will work and do our best to save everything. We dismantle the paintings and hide them”, adding that: “We are doing our best to preserve them”.

As the people of Kharkiv try to repel the Russian invasion, a recent estimate since early March, said at least 34 civilians had been killed in the area around the town. This is in addition to Mariupol, another town 260 miles south of Kharkiv, stuck without electricity, running water or food as the Russians took over.

The city made headlines around the world after the Russians reportedly bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol. The explosion killed at least three people and injured 17, according to city officials.

Newsweek has contacted the city of Kharkiv for comment.