Published On: March 16, 2022904 words4.5 min read

More likely than not, you are aware of the current events in Ukraine. It probably comes as no surprise, but according to officials from the United Nations, the invasion of Ukraine is “a serious threat to the country’s vast cultural heritage”.  

Ukraine is home to seven UNESCO heritage sites, including the St. Sophia Cathedral.  Therefore, as you may already guess, this threat is not something that they are taking lightly.  “We must safeguard this cultural heritage, as a testimony of the past but also as a vector of peace for the future,” said UNESCO’s director-general, Audrey Azoulay.

It is important for everyone to stay up to date with the status of the entire situation in Ukraine.  However, this article will be focusing on a more general subject- protecting art in war-torn areas.


Art in Times of War

While the artwork isn’t the driving force behind the situation in Ukraine, it may become a casualty of war.  This is not the first time that the artwork of the areas in dispute will be lost or damaged.  Unfortunately, it also will not be the last.  

“Perhaps for the first time in history, there were men whose sole job it was to preserve the heritage and culture of nations being torn to shreds by the ravages of war.” Deanne Keller, in reference to The Monuments Men

[Read also:  Ninety Truckloads of Art: Safeguarding The Met Collection During World War II]

As things progress in Ukraine, it’s hard to say what the final outcome will be when it comes to the preservation of its museums.  This is not to say that nothing is being done in order to protect as many pieces as possible.  From museum workers to Ukrainian locals, it’s clear that they want to do their part in art preservation.However, the effects of the outside issues have made their way into some Ukrainian museums already.  For example, The Ivankiv Museum was subjected to fire which destroyed 25 works by artist Maria Prymachenko (a household name in Ukraine).  Looted artwork has also been used to reward military/political leaders in the past, and we would not be surprised if this were to happen again.

Why Don’t They “Just Move the Art”?

Museum employees are doing their absolute best to keep their museum’s pieces protected.  From moving the pieces to other secure and hidden locations in the museum to staying behind to safeguard the pieces;  it would be impossible to say they aren’t devoted to the safekeeping of art. 

While it’s possible that perhaps some pieces were saved in ways that aren’t conventional, it seems unlikely. They cannot simply do whatever they wish with these pieces of art.  If they were able to simply move the art out of the country, they would have done so already.  The issue here is that paperwork needs to be filed before any of this can be done.  This leads us to question if there couldn’t be special circumstances in which this paperwork can be overlooked, (war, for example).

“The evacuation system in our country is largely based on outdated and abstract documents, many of which were written during the Soviet era and in fact have never been tested in practice,” Zubar, a cultural employee, told the Globe through an email written in Ukrainian. “As far as I know, many museums did not even have packing materials.”

Many lessons are learned due to war, and perhaps this one will cause them to reassess their protocols, and supplies at a far later date.

Were Museums Unprepared?

Having measures in place in case of an emergency is quite different from having to actually put these measures into action.  

Whether it was due to lack of proper tools/materials, or a lack of time- many museums were simply unprepared.  Also, let’s not forget that while artwork and artifacts are important, there are human lives being affected, uprooted, and lost.  There are other priorities on people’s minds, and you can’t blame anyone in situations such as these.  Instead, you should merely want to help them.

What Can We Do?

During times like these, it is extremely easy to feel helpless.  Rallies have been held to show Ukraine support, and fundraisers have been held. While the donation of goods is full of good intentions, the reality is that most of the items would never make it to the designated location.  And, if they did, it would take far too long.  

According to Charity Intelligence, sending funds to a trusted organization is your best option.  However, be wary.  It’s hard to believe people would use these times to their advantage and come up with scams, but they are.  Read the full article of legitimate recommendations here to see which options are the most practical and efficient.  

If you can’t donate your own funds, perhaps sell some artwork, start a charity drive, or do research about non-profit organizations in your area.  No act of kindness would be too small.

More Articles Worth Reading:

How Canadians Can Effectively Help Ukrainians

Unesco Sounds the Alarm Over Threats to Ukrainian Cultural Heritage

How Ukraine’s Museums Are Handling the Russian Invasion