During the occupation, two-thirds of the museum’s exhibits were taken away – an employee of the Kherson Art Museum
The Kherson Art Museum has suffered greatly at the hands of the Russian occupiers, and it continues to work online and fight for the return of its exhibits. According to the museum’s staff, the Russian occupation authorities have taken more than 10,000 works out of the 14,000 that were in the collection,
This was stated by Larysa Zharkykh, official of the Kherson Regional Art Museum, at a briefing at the Ukraine-Odesa Media Center.
“All the works were taken by the Russian occupiers in early November 2022. In early 2022, we began the “Great Restoration”, the museum was closed, the ceilings were removed. Perhaps this saved us in March: the occupiers saw that there was dust and repair work and changed their minds about seizing the museum. And in May, we were visited by Russian art looters – “polite” people in civilian clothes.” They asked where the collection was, what condition it was in, and where it was located. Until mid-April 2022, we maintained our Facebook page, wrote about our work, and posted news. And in July, we were completely taken over – the museum was headed by a collaborator-singer from a café. Then she fled to Russia,” said the museum employee.
Larysa Zharkykh said that part of the team managed to leave the occupied city for Ukraine. Someone stayed in Kherson, and several people cooperated with the Russian occupiers – they told us where the works from the collection were hidden.
“Some of our employees cooperated with the occupiers, while three people remained undercover. Thanks to these employees, we knew what was happening in the museum. But those who became collaborators showed us the location of the collection. When the Russian invaders started taking them away, they treated the washing machines better than the works of art,” Larysa emphasized.
The value of the part of the collection that was taken by the Russian invaders is to be determined by international experts. According to a museum employee, the occupiers were interested in selling the works on the black market. When they were taking the paintings away, they were talking among themselves about what they could sell for how much.
“The looters took away the famous painting by Konstantin Makovsky “Portrait of the Wife”, it is also called “Kherson Gioconda”. They took away all the works of the itinerants and the so-called southern Ukrainian school of art of the late nineteenth century. They simply cut some paintings out of their frames, and damaged some large works because they could not take them out and load them into their cars,” Larysa said.
Now almost all the museum’s employees work online, maintain the museum’s social media, actively communicate with journalists and conduct research, despite the shelling of the city and the museum.
“It is very important for us to preserve the museum building, which was designed by Odesa architect Adolf Minkus. There were very terrible attacks on November 30 last year, April 10, 2023, and December 4. The facade is very damaged. Every time the windows are smashed, they are covered with boards and sewn up, but in the last shelling, the boards were damaged as well. We are fighting for the return of the collection, collecting evidence and cooperating with everyone who helps us return our Ukrainian cultural heritage,” Zharkikh said.
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