March 13, 2022

Culture Under Fire

Culture Under Fire
The Derzhprom in Freedom Square, Kharkiv, Ukraine, 2020 Image Courtesy of 
Konstantin Brizhnichenko

On February 24th Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. The war has had a huge impact on Ukrainians,  and it has also been affecting cultural sites. Ukraine is home to seven World Heritage sites. Last Tuesday, UNESCO announced that it will be marking Ukraine's cultural sites with its "Blue Shield" emblem and would meet on March 15 for a special session to discuss the impact of war on these sites.

As the war continues to rage and the missiles continue to fall on civilians and their towns, not only are people dying, but their cultural markers are being damaged and some even reduced to ashes. On March 4, Ukraine's Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Oleksandr Tkachenko, asked that the skies over Ukraine be closed "because Russian aggressors are destroying Ukrainian cultural sites."

1. The Ivankiv Museum 

Little Shepherds, by Primachenko
Little Shepherds, 1959, by Primachenko. | National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art

The Ivankiv Museum in Kyiv is known for its folk art, specifically, the work of Maria Primachenko. When the museum was destroyed, so were 25 of Primachenko's works, which were highly praised by the likes of Picasso and many Ukrainians. The museum burned down on February 25.

2. Freedom Square

An aerial view of Freedom Square in 2003 showing half of the square.
Freedom Square, Kharkiv, Ukraine in 2003 | Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Shmuliko

Located in the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Freedom Square is the largest square in Europe. The square is home to famous Constructivist architecture, such as one of the first Soviet skyscrapers the 14-story Derzhprom Building, the Opera house, and the concert hall. On March 1, Russian missiles destroyed the square and damaged the opera house.

3. Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center

A sculpture of a Menorah
A Menorah, part of the Babyn Yar Memorial, 2008 | Image Courtesy 

Babyn Yar Memorial Center is located in the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, and during the battle of Kyiv on March 1, there was damage done to the center's building, but the menorah pictured above survived intact. The memorial commemorates the largest massacre of Jews during the Second World War, during which more than 33,000 Jewish people died. After hearing that the site had been hit, President Zelensky spoke out on social media "To the world: what is the point of saying 'never again' for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least five killed. History repeating…"

4. Krasna Square

The desna hotel in Krasna square
The Desna Hotel in Krasna Square, Chernihiv | Image Courtesy Star61

The Krasna Square in Chernihiv experienced an immense amount of shelling on March 3, most of it targetting the residential areas and the center of Chernihiv. The exact amount of damage done to the Square, it is home to historical buildings, such as the Desna Hotel (shown above) and the city's Opera and Drama Theatre, is as yet uncatalogued. The historical square is listed on Ukraine’s World Heritage Tentative List.

5. Assumption Cathedral

The cathedral on a sunny day
The Assumption (or Dormition) Cathedral | Image Courtesy of  Sergiy Bobok

Built in the 1700s during the Russian Empire, the Assumption (or Dormition in the Orthodox Church) is located in Kharkiv and stands near the Lopan River. The bell tower in the church was built to commemorate Tsar Alexander I's victory and expulsion of Napoleon from Russia. On March 2, after Russian shelling, the church experienced damage to its stained glass windows and icons. According to the Cathedral's social media, no one that was inside the church at the time was injured.

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