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Ukraine’s Latest Loss

March 8, 2022
A naive-style painting of bears collecting honey from an apiary

Bears at Apiary (1965) by Maria Prymachenko

A video circulating on social media shows a museum on fire due to the current conflict in Ukraine. According to locals, within the first days of the invasion, Russian troops set fire to the Ivankiv Museum, about 50 miles north of Kyiv.

One of the first to condemn the museum’s destruction was James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Cuno wrote on February 28th, “News reports indicate that among the many atrocities being committed in Ukraine over the past few days of Putin’s War, Russian forces have begun destroying Ukrainian cultural heritage”. He also reiterated the art world’s general view that protecting cultural heritage “is a core value of civilized societies.”

Of all the works kept at the Ivankiv Museum, probably the most significant loss is around twenty-five works by one of Ukraine’s most renowned folk artists, Maria Prymachenko. During her lifetime, she was a well-known and respected artist, receiving honors from both the USSR and independent Ukraine. Two years after her death in 1997, the Ukrainian government featured her work on postage stamps, while her face was put on the 5 hryvnia coin in 2008. She received one of her greatest endorsements from Pablo Picasso, who called her an “artistic miracle”.

Millions of artworks and monuments are still at risk of being damaged or destroyed due to the fighting between invading Russian forces and Ukrainian defenders. Russian attempts to take Kyiv still pose a danger to the treasures kept at the city’s museums, as well as two of Ukraine’s seven UNESCO heritage sites. There are fears that the capital’s museums may be plundered and looted by Russian troops, with their contents transferred to institutions in Russia. Ukraine’s culture minister has now called on UNESCO to revoke Russia’s membership. Ukraine’s defenders have been successful so far at slowing the Russian advance, which may buy time for those seeking to safeguard the contents of the country’s museums. But who knows what may happen between now and when peace is restored?