“We’ll get everything back,” Ukraine’s culture minister vows in interview with Context.ro

20 iul., 2023

Ukraine’s cultural heritage is being lost, stolen, and damaged at an alarming rate as the war with Russia drags on, but efforts are being made by officials and experts to rescue what they can before it’s too late, according to Ukraine’s Minister of Culture. 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 1,500 culturally significant artifacts have been damaged and a third of them have been stolen or totally destroyed, minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said. Documenting and preventing such war crimes, however, is no simple task. But the 57-year-old minister has vowed to fight the cause. 

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Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko (photo credit: Ukraine’s Minister of Culture)

“We will return the stolen values, through the courts, the imposition of sanctions, and the seizure of property of Russians abroad,” Tkachenko said in an interview in Kyiv with Context.ro. “It won’t be easy, but we will get everything back.”

Tkachenko said he’s witnessed first-hand war crimes committed by Moscow’s forces against his country’s identity, which he accuses of trying to erase Ukrainian culture and identity. 

„They burned Ukrainian books,” he said. “I was in Balakliye, where they didn’t have time to take Ukrainian books out of the central library of Balakliye and they piled them up … and prepared them for burning.”

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(photo credit: Ukraine’s Minister of Culture)

Ukraine has around 12 million artifacts across its museums, but the institutions weren’t prepared for Russia’s invasion. Since then, massive evacuation efforts have been made by the authorities to protect the country’s heritage.

Some Ukrainian areas have been severely affected, like Izium, the northeastern city which suffered near total destruction at the hands of Russia’s soldiers. During the siege in six months, the city suffered massive fire damage. A 140-year-old school, which survived the Second World War, completely burned. 

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(photo credit: Ukraine’s Minister of Culture)

In the early days of the war, Russian occupiers also looted scores of Ukraine’s museums particularly in the besieged cities of Mariupol, Melitopol, and Kherson. Tens of thousands of artworks were looted, some of which – like the Scythian gold from the Kherson Art Museum – dated back several thousand years.

“There are testimonies from residents that Russian troops deliberately destroyed these cultural institutions,” Tkachenko said, adding that Russian forces deliberately fired at the Skovoroda Museum in the village of Skovorodinivka, which was situated between residential buildings, endangering civilians.

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(photo credit: Ukraine’s Minister of Culture)

A special Ukrainian commission, charged with documenting war crimes and spearheaded by the interior minister, Ihor Klymenko, has been set up. “They work together with the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement officers,” said Tkachenko. “Together with international experts, we must record the crimes.”

After the massive Kakhovka dam in Kherson collapsed last month, widespread flooding damaged scores more cultural works and threatened more nearly 150 cultural institutions. 

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(photo credit: Ukraine’s Minister of Culture)

“Flooding destroyed many objects,” Tkachenko said. “(The) Kakhovka picture gallery; the history museum; the museum-village of Kozatske, Oleshkiv local history museum, and a house-museum of the Ukrainian painter Polina Raiko … 147 culture and art education institutions were at risk.”

Heritage items that „emerge” as a result of the descent of water, the minister said, are at risk being irreversibly damaged. One such item rescued in the aftermath is a 300-year-old boat that is carved from a single piece of wood. 

Ukraine’s State Commission, together with specialists from UNESCO, have undertaken archaeological expeditions to try and recover as many cultural items as they can. But much of the territory is littered with landmines, so it can be perilous work. 

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(photo credit: Ukraine’s Minister of Culture)

UNESCO has already taken under its patronage the restoration of the historical and local history museum in Ivankovo, where the paintings of the artist Maria Prymachenko and the National Literary and Memorial Museum of Hryhoriy Skovoroda in the village of Skovorodinivka were stored.

Cases of collaboration with Russian forces have been identified, which can only hamper efforts made being the authorities. „Unfortunately, we know of several cases of collaboration,” the minister said. “Including from the art museum in Mariupol.” 

Paintings looted from Mariupol were filmed and broadcast on Russian television, he added, showing the museum’s director bringing out the artworks and giving them to the Russian occupiers. 

Tkachenko added: „The actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine have all the signs of genocide.”

Edited by Stephen McGrath

Despre autor: Taisiia Bakharieva

Avatar of Taisiia Bakharieva
Taisiia Bakharieva este o jurnalistă din Kiev, Ucraina, care acum locuiește în România. Este în media din 1994 și a lucrat pentru agenția de presă RATAU, ziarele Kray și Vseukrainskie Vedomosti și ca redactor-șef al departamentului de cultură al ziarului și al site-ului FAKTI. Taisiia a intervievat numeroase personalități din Ucraina și este autor și prezentator al secțiunii de televiziune TV-FAKTI. După ce Rusia i-a invadat țara, Taisiia s-a mutat în România și s-a alăturat echipei CONTEXT. Munca ei se concentrează acum pe investigații privind crimele de război ale Rusiei în Ucraina și realizează interviuri cu victimele și martorii terorii rusești. Este de multă vreme membră a Uniunii Jurnaliștilor din Ucraina.

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