Efforts To Protect Ukrainian Heritage And Culture

Assisting Museum Workers in Ukraine.

The founders of Museum Crisis Center talk about what they're doing to protect museum employees and preserve Ukraine's cultural legacy. 

Along with citizens, many art and cultural landmarks in Ukraine are destroyed by Russia's full-scale assault. 

During the first 20 days of the conflict, Russian soldiers bombarded local historical museums in Chernihiv, Okhtyrka, and Ivankiv, as well as an art museum, architectural monuments in Kharkiv, and many more. 

They landed a 500-kilogram bomb on the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol, where over a thousand people were fleeing the bombardment as of this writing. 

While the Ukrainian government is focusing on preserving the country's art assets, local history and modern art are still under danger from the conflict. 

Furthermore, museum staff in the area often put their lives on the line to protect exhibits in combat zones. 

Local residents, cultural professionals, and NGOs create separate efforts and remove art that has a lower chance of surviving the conflict to rescue ignored Ukrainian history from extinction. 

Olha Honchar, director of the Lviv museum "The Territory of Terror," requested on Facebook on March 3 whether there were any funding available to help Ukrainian artists and institutions during the conflict. 

"Meanwhile, we start building such a fund ourselves," she said later. 

Olha created Museum Crisis Center, a grassroots project aiming at assisting museum personnel in disaster situations and evacuating artworks, in collaboration with the team from the NGO Insha Osvita. 

The first contributions to the newly created fund were made the following day. 

The center's principal purpose was to provide immediate financial and organizational help to museum personnel, many of whom were caught in the middle of the battle and unable to maintain themselves. 

The center must find methods to bypass lengthy bureaucratic procedures in order to assist people who want urgent assistance. 

Conversation with Olha Honchar and Alyona Karavai, co-founders of the Museum Crisis Center, on the balance between legal requirements and efficiency in times of crisis, as well as their critical viewpoints on international humanitarian institutions. 

Tell us about your organization's activities. 

Honchar, Olha: We have offices in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv [both in Ukraine's west]. 

We pooled our resources and enlisted the help of other individuals to establish the Museum Crisis Center, often known as the Museum Emergency. 

In war-torn places where museum personnel are under threat, I arrange immediate help. 

We collect contributions for necessities such as food, water, and medication. 

Many museum employees have not been paid, and their expenditures have risen as a result. 

Our objective is to guarantee that these individuals survive the battle and that [rescue teams] can reconstruct the museums that have been damaged. 

As a result, our daily routine consists of monitoring needs, obtaining funding, and making humanitarian shipments. 

We're working on an efficient algorithm for our work with the NGO "Insha Osvita" since it's difficult to react to people's needs swiftly in the bureaucratic Ukrainian system. 

Everything is set up to accommodate a lengthy bureaucracy. 

However, in many of the places where we operate, there are no accountants, the treasury is destroyed, or the cultural department is shut down. 

As a result, the only method to assist is to transfer money on a personal card. 

It is our responsibility to make it public and persuade funders that assistance is received by people who need it. 

The rehabilitation of museums and infrastructure will be the next phase, but these are large-scale projects. 

At this time, it is critical to assist teams and individuals so that rebuilding may begin later. 

You're also helping to evacuate works, concentrating on grassroots activities and art projects that will be the last to be brought to the notice of official cultural heritage organizations. 

Alyona Karavai: I'm Alyona Karavai, and I'm Or they won't show up at all. 

We met with the Minister of Culture the other day, and they told us that they were focusing on things that are considered "of cultural importance" under Ukrainian legislation, which means objects that are 50 years old or older. 

The fundamental goal of their organization is to conserve huge national collections. 

As a result, they are unable to assist even the modest state museums under their jurisdiction. 

Grassroots efforts and modern art, on the other hand, are typically outside of their area of influence. 

We [the NGO "Insha Osvita") remove artwork from artists' studios, private collections, and art museums. 

How often do you get requests for assistance, and do you do any specific tasks? 

Karavai, Alyona: There is no option to choose from. We try to assist everyone we can. 

We've had 17 requests for help, and we've only been able to fulfill six of them thus far. 

Mariupol had made a request, but it was evident that we couldn't aid there any more. 

There are certain things over which we have no control. 

We attempt to assess a scenario to see whether it is within our grasp or beyond our capabilities. 

Do you solely deal with platforms, or may artists who wish to preserve their work come to you for assistance? 

Karavai, Alyona: Anyone can do it. So far, we've received more requests from artists. 

We won't identify the people we're evacuating, but we've been contacted by well-known outlets in Ukraine. 

Honchar, Olha: We assist museums with which we have personal relationships. 

Our monitoring team consists of museum employees [and] center directors who communicate with one another and acquire information regarding requirements. 

Because there are so many dubious scenarios and bogus news these days, it's critical that we do this via proven connections. 

People are hesitant to reveal what they have in museum collections since it is unknown how this data will be used. 

That's why we depend on our trusted network and work with the close relationships I've developed over the course of my career, including as the director of the "Territory of Terror." Other emergency teams are dispatched on the basis of institutions and cultural groups at the same time. 

Everyone has enough heritage since there is so much of it. 

Our main emphasis is on tiny regional museums that are near to us. 

How can you safely evacuate and transport artwork? 

Karavai, Alyona: On the ground, we have a few volunteers. Some citizens in Kyiv and Odesa assist with the evacuation of artworks via bus. 

We've been on the lookout for a vehicle. 

It takes a long time to locate any since we are not a transportation firm and have never done anything like this before. 

There were times when we located an automobile just to have it drop at the last moment. 

The scenario on the highways is rapidly evolving. 

So just because we were allowed to utilize a route yesterday does not indicate we will be able to do so tomorrow. 

How many buildings have you already evacuated? 

Karavai, Alyona: [Over 400 works] have already been placed in storage. 

We are only a transshipment point; the works are then passed on to storage [hubs]. 

Do you get any aid from Ukraine's Ministry of Culture? 

Karavai, Alyona: They are unable to assist us, but we are able to converse with them. 

I hastened to meet with the minister so that they were aware of our existence; they had seen our news release, and we had a collaborative discussion about what we do. 

They do not, however, offer us with resources, and we do not anticipate their doing so. 

Their current mission is to conserve huge collections. 

We're searching for outside assistance. 

In Ukraine, you underline that you do not accept contributions from private persons. 

What are your financial sources? 

Karavai, Alyona: They come from the outside. 

[…] We have received offers of assistance from individual donors and organizations such as UNESCO. 

We recognize that resources exist elsewhere, and we do not want to exhaust our already limited resources in Ukraine. 

Could you, as an NGO, remove a state museum's collection? 

Karavai, Alyona: No, we won't be able to. 

We have no legal authority to do so. 

There are also constraints on what may be taken out of Ukraine and what the EU would recognize as not stealing cultural assets. 

What are the most serious threats to creative heritage today? What are the most popular destinations right now?

Honchar, Olha: We were at a UNESCO conference today, and everyone stated they didn't think Russia had bombarded our museums, archives, and cathedrals by mistake. 

This seems to be a purposeful attempt to destroy Ukrainian culture. 

These acts are consistent with Putin's assertion that Ukraine has no legal right to exist. 

The archives' directors discussed the assaults on the archives, which have proof and historical records documenting Russia's mistreatment of Ukraine. 

The purpose is to obliterate our culture and install the 'Pax Russica.' 

We informed UNESCO that all war norms, conventions, laws, and prohibitions on assaults on civilians, doctors, the press, and museums are ineffective [here]. 

This battle should not be compared to the Second World War since it is a new kind of evil that is now raging in our land. 

The rest of the globe is in danger as well. 

Because all of the norms have been violated, we must devise a new strategy for surviving the conflict and reviving the lost [legacy]. 

Ukrainian culture may teach us a lot about how to fight evil, particularly totalitarian regimes like Russia. 

The birth of a new planet is taking place right in front of our eyes. 

It also demonstrates that the bureaucracy has made a mistake. 

On every level. 

Now, NGO's like ours may be more successful than current international grants that were created to address these particular needs. 

We're currently creating new game rules. 

Because the old world is no longer functioning, new leaders must emerge in culture. 

Karavai, Alyona: [In this conflict]...  Nothing can be solved with money. 

It is not about money when it comes to evacuating art or supporting institutions; it is about human resources and horizontal linkages, the strength of civic society when there are people who care and are prepared to assist. 

Which of the storylines about Ukraine that have recently arisen in the international media do you believe should be stressed and understood? 

Karavai, Alyona: Everyone now agrees that Russia should leave us alone, and that no one in Ukraine wants to surrender. 

People seek self-determination, which is why Ukraine's agency exists. 

I think it's great that a growing number of cultural leaders are advocating for seeing Russian contemporary culture through the prism of postcolonialism. 

Our difficulties do not arise spontaneously; it is not that we [Russia's surrounding nations] are all suicidal in the presence of Russia; rather, it is Russia [that behaves violently]. 

I'm not sure whether we persuaded the international community this time, but it's at least stated more clearly today. 

Honchar, Olha: I'm hoping that the takeaway from this circumstance for us is that we should not reduce cultural programs. 

Culture, like military, should be a strategic goal for Ukraine. 

The vulnerability of museums today, during the war, was not from a desire to fix windows or pack exhibits, but from a lack of funds. 

Museum employees are currently in the most vulnerable position conceivable. 

That has to change. 

Russia provided a very different degree of cultural assistance. 

We must recognize that [politics and culture] are intertwined, and that this conflict must result in cultural shifts. 

What can citizens in the United States do right now to support Ukrainian art and culture? 

Karavai, Alyona: First and foremost, I would want to urge you to learn more about Ukraine and think on the current situation. 

Suddenly is the moment to pay attention to our artists and culture, to comprehend what we're talking about, and why Ukrainian artists are now refusing to sit on panels or participate in conversations with Russian counterparts. 

Donations are vital, but so is paying attention to these problems and listening to our concerns. 

I would suggest monitoring the Ukrainian Emergency Fund, which supports Ukrainian artists, among the foundations. 

If there is a desire to support local museums in small towns and villages, you may reach out to us, certain that the funds will reach museum personnel without the usual bureaucratic delays. 

The powerlessness and futility of key international organizations like the OSCE, the Red Cross, and the United Nations has been on our minds a lot lately. 

Although their funds for Ukraine are substantial, they have little direct influence and efficiency. 

Donating to local organizations makes a lot more sense. 

Honchar, Olha: We have sponsored 137 persons and 30 organizations in 8 districts with over 5,000 euros in these days and since March 3. 

This is a little quantity of money, however it was entirely used towards immediate assistance. 

Most [Ukrainian] organizations are unable to take this money since the legislation prohibits such payments [for state museums], particularly when it originates from overseas. 

Because we function as a middleman for these payments, we are receiving an increasing number of requests. 

Alyona Karavai: [The conflict has proved that] museum reform is necessary. 

Because they are unable to legally receive money from overseas, well-known Ukrainian institutions come to us. 

Although people are willing to give, such transactions are prohibited. 

Without the need of middleman firms like ourselves, foreign partners should be able to fund museums like the one in Ivankiv.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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