Several dozen Ukrainian museums will be commandeered by Russia on September 30 after President Vladimir Putin signs a decree annexing the occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. The signing follows a raft of referendums, widely condemned as shams, that saw the citizens of those regions vote by a broad margin to agree to be annexed by the Russian Federation. Russia will thus gain possession of the thousands of artifacts and heritage works in the institutions’ collections.
The Art Newspaper did a deep dive into the institutions whose treasures will be lost to the occupying nation. Among them are the Donetsk Regional Museum of Local History, which took in works from the Kuindzhi Art Museum when that institution, devoted to the work of influential Ukrainian realist painter Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842–1910), was largely destroyed in an airstrike in March. Other Donetsk museums that will come under Russian control are the Donetsk Republican Art Museum and the Horlivka art museum. Olena Pekh, a senior researcher at the latter institution, is serving thirteen years on espionage charges after having been arrested by pro-Russian forces in 2018.
In Luhansk, the region’s eponymous capital city owns one of Ukraine’s largest collections of sacred Polovtsian statues, or “stone babas,” some of which date to the ninth century. The territory will also be forced to cede to Russia the works and objects held in the Luhansk Art Museum, the Luhansk Museum of Local Lore, and the Luhansk Museum of History and Culture. Kherson, which borders the Black Sea, has been under Russian command since March and is home to the Kherson Museum of Local History, whose director, Tatyana Bratchenk, has been implicated by Ukraine as a Russian collaborator; the territory is also home to the Kherson Regional Art Museum. In July, Russian federal forces and masked police forcibly replaced its director, Alina Dotsenko. The city of Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia is already in Russia’s grip. Leila Ibrahimova, the director of its Museum of Local History, was kidnapped and released; Russia muscled in a new director, Evgeny Gorlachev, who was later identified as being directly connected to the theft of the museum’s collection of Scythian gold.