Tuesday, March 19, 2024



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March 12, 2024

An outline of Ukraine colored with the colors of Ukraine's flagUsing museums to shape the public’s perception of the past and the present is far from a new idea. This is especially true when it comes to governments with authoritarian streaks. And we are seeing it again with Russia concerning their current military endeavors in Ukraine. Everyone involved in the ongoing conflict understands that art and culture play an important role in the war’s trajectory and the world’s perception of it. Now, Russia’s government is trying to use museums to push its narrative of the conflict.

Over the past two years, Russia’s armed forces have been responsible for the destruction and appropriation of Ukraine’s culture and national heritage. Cultural organizations have spread themselves thin trying to protect Ukrainian works of art, going as far as to smuggle truckloads of works out of the country for safekeeping in Western Europe, ranging from ancient artifacts to paintings by contemporary artists. Many Ukrainian museums in Russian-held territory now have new staff. These museums are now being repurposed to suit Russia’s needs, including a new museum in Mariupol.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the city of Mariupol came under siege. For nearly three months, the Ukrainian defenders kept the Russians at bay. About 90% of the city was destroyed in the process, while two-thirds of the population fled the area. Many of the city’s museums and galleries were damaged or completely destroyed. Even though the loss of the city to Russia was one of the major early defeats for Ukraine, the amount of time and effort it took for Russia to take the city and the subsequent humanitarian disaster cost Russia dearly on the world stage. However, Russia’s government intends to view Mariupol’s capture not as an invasion but as a liberation, which is the focus of the new museum in Mariupol. According to Russia’s culture minister Olga Lyubimova, the museum will be dedicated to “the modern history of Donbass and Novorossiya”. ‘Novorossiya’ literally means ‘New Russia’, and is a czarist term for southern Ukraine that has been dusted off and used by Putin and pro-Russia groups to refer to Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine.

This new museum in Mariupol is just one of several museums the Russian government is establishing. A document drafted by Russia’s culture ministry specifies what these museums should have on display, including children’s toys stained with blood, ammunition provided by NATO, and knives decorated with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. This last addition serves as a reminder of the Kremlin’s absurd claims that Ukraine’s government constitutes a neo-Nazi state committing genocide of Russian-speaking people in the country.

Russian authorities plan on opening the “liberation” museum this summer… that is unless they lose the city to Ukrainian forces before then.


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