Ukraine’s national art museum endeavors to protect heritage

Ukraine’s national art museum endeavors to protect heritage

LVIV, Ukraine (AP): The staff of Ukraine’s largest art museum endeavor to protect the country’s national heritage in case of a possible Russian advance to the west.

In one partially empty gallery of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum, employees placed carefully wrapped baroque pieces into cardboard boxes. A few meters away, a group walked down the majestic main staircase carrying a giant piece of sacred art, the 18th-century Bohorodchany iconostasis.

Workers move a piece of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis in the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum as safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP)
Workers move the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis in the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum as part of safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP)

“Sometimes the tears are coming because a lot of labor has been put in here. It takes time, energy. You are doing something good, you feel pleased. Today you see empty walls, so it feels bitter, sad. We didn’t believe it till the last minute that this could happen,” museum General Director Ihor Kozhan said Friday.

The doors of the museum in the western city of Lviv have been closed since Russia’s war on Ukraine began on Feb. 24, and heritage sites across the country face danger as the fighting continues. Korzhan said he receives daily calls from other European cultural institutions offering to help as he and his staff race to preserve the museum’s works.

Anna Naurobska, the head of the rare manuscripts and books department, said she still doesn’t know where to safely store the collection of more than 12,000 items being packed into boxes.

Workers at the rare manuscripts and old printed books department of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum store them in cardboard boxes to reduce the risk of damage in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP)
Workers at the rare manuscripts and old printed books department of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum store them in cardboard boxes to reduce the risk of damage in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP)
Old books rest on shelves at the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. The doors of the museum have been closed since Russia’s war on Ukraine began on Feb. 24. (AP)
Workers and volunteers of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum store Baroque pieces in cardboard boxes as safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP)

The relocation process and the fear that the collection is in danger in the event of an attack on the city overwhelms her.

“This is our story; this is our life. It is very important to us,” Naurobska said.

She walked into another room and held up a massive tome, tears forming in her eyes. “It’s a Russian book,” she said, putting it back on the shelf. “I’m so angry.”

Like the museum, other sites in Lviv are rushing to protect works of artistic or cultural importance. The display cabinets at the Museum of the History of Religion are almost empty. Workers are assembling metal containers in the patio to safely store the remaining items before placing them in basements. At the Latin Cathedral, the sculptures have been covered with cardboard, foam and plastic to protect them from possible shrapnel.

Busts of Soviet iconography are stored in the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv, western Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP)
Workers move a baroque sacred art piece in the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum as part of safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP)

Amid the bare walls and shrouded statues, Kozhan lamented the empty museum, which has survived two world wars.

“The museum has to live. People have to be there, and first of all children. They have to learn the basics of their culture,” he said.

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