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At Ukraine's largest art museum, a race to protect heritage

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AP 6 March 2022
By Bernat Armangué 

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — The director of Ukraine’s largest art museum walked its hallways, supervising as staff packed away its collections to protect their national heritage in case the Russian invasion advances west.

In one partially empty gallery of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum, employees placed carefully wrapped baroque pieces into cardboard boxes. A few meters away, a group walked down the majestic main staircase carrying a giant piece of sacred art, the 18th century Bohorodchany iconostasis.

“Sometimes the tears are coming because a lot of labor has been put in here. It takes time, energy. You are doing something good, you feel pleased. Today you see empty walls, so it feels bitter, sad. We didn’t believe it till the last minute that this could happen,” museum General Director Ihor Kozhan said Friday.


A sheet covers a sculpture of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv, western Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022.


Workers move the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis in the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum as part of safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022.

The doors of the museum in the western city of Lviv have been closed since Russia’s war on Ukraine began on Feb. 24, and heritage sites across the country face danger as the fighting continues. Korzhan said he receives daily calls from other European cultural institutions offering to help as he and his staff race to preserve the museum’s works.

Anna Naurobska, the head of the rare manuscripts and books department, said she still doesn’t know where to safely store the collection of more than 12,000 items being packed into boxes.

The relocation process and the fear that the collection is in danger in the event of an attack on the city overwhelms her.

“This is our story; this is our life. It is very important to us,” Naurobska said.


Workers at the rare manuscripts and old printed books department of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum store them in cardboard boxes to reduce the risk of damage in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022

She walked into another room and held up a massive tome, tears forming in her eyes. “It’s a Russian book,” she said, putting it back on the shelf. “I’m so angry.”

Like the museum, other sites in Lviv are rushing to protect works of artistic or cultural importance. The display cabinets at the Museum of the History of Religion are almost empty. Workers are assembling metal containers in the patio to safely store the remaining items before placing them in basements. At the Latin Cathedral, the sculptures have been covered with cardboard, foam and plastic to protect them from possible shrapnel.


Ihor Kozhan, Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum general director works in his office in Lviv, western Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022. The doors of the museum have been closed since Russia's war on Ukraine began on Feb. 24

Amid the bare walls and shrouded statues, Kozhan lamented the empty museum, which has survived two world wars.

“Museum has to live. People have to be there, and first of all children. They have to learn the basics of their culture,” he said.


A woman walks past the Museum of the History of Religion in Lviv, western Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022.


A worker of the Museum of the History of Religion builds a box to protect artifacts in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, western Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022


The glass of a display cabinet containing human remains of the Vysotska culture is reinforced with tape at the Museum of the History of Religion in Lviv, western Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022


Workers and volunteers of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum store Baroque pieces in cardboard boxes as safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022.


Workers move a piece of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis in the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum as safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022


https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-travel-europe-art-museums-museums-768ce266673b85965edc8367c2257370
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