A particular museum in Ukraine has kept going during the war, thanks to the courageous work of its director Ihor Poshyvalio. Is he Maiden Museumin which several “common” artifacts that have a high symbolic value are preserved to commemorate the revolution that in 2014 overthrew the government of Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Putin.
Now, Poshyvalio has continued with his mission, collecting more valuable objects in symbolism that will help future generations. to remember the resistance and courage of the Ukrainians to fight the Russian invasion that began on February 24.
The first task of the art historian, who was in charge of the Maidan Museum at the time of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, was to preserve the museum’s collection, more than 4,000 objects that he now keeps in a secret place, among which are homemade flags, protest banners, hand-decorated tents and the weapons, including Molotov cocktails, baseball bats and stolen police shields, which were used to defend the protesters’ camp on Maidan Square in central kyiv against heavily armed state security forces.
Then began the new task, an idea that formed in Poshyvailo’s mind as the Russian invasion intensified over the last two months, to collect the objects that could tell the story of this conflict to future generations.
“This war is a continuation of Maidan”, Poshyvailo, 54, told The Guardian. “We are not focused on the military history of the war. That is for other institutions. We try to collect objects that tell symbolic and emotional stories, symbols of terror and resistance”.
A new acquisition is a ceramic rooster jug that sat stoically untouched in a kitchen cupboard atop a bombed-out apartment block in the town of Borodyanka. The locally made ornament has been adopted as a mascot by the Ukrainian public, to the point that Boris Johnson received a replica of it during his visit to Ukraine last month.
The rest of the building was so devastated by Russian firepower that Poshyvailo’s team was forced to use a hydraulic crane to salvage the object.
The rooster, collected with the permission of its original owner, is not the only artifact the museum has obtained from the ruins of the town, located 60 kilometers west of the capital.
“We documented the kindergarten on one side, the restaurant on the other side. It had been such a peaceful life in that compound; these were normal people. The neighborhood is very representative of post-Soviet families: very simple, very cozy. In one apartment there were many textbooks, maps and the belongings of at least two children. There were books for high school, as well as a dress, hanging in the closet, belonging to a child of about three or four years old. These objects tell the story of lost futures, of despair”, the curator said.
“In Bucha we collected some objects that were left when people tried to evacuate the city”he explained.
There they collected white textiles that people had tied to their rearview mirrors as they tried to escape. “They were surrender flags indicating that they were only civilians fleeing the war. We picked them up from cars with bullet holes along the side, many with bodies still inside.”.
“These objects can become small exhibitions that tell the story of the life of these ordinary people, of their deaths. They can demonstrate cruelty but also explain why Ukrainians fight so fiercely for their freedom.”Poshyvailo said.
Poshyvailo’s mission began in 2014, just a week after the first protesters camped out in kyiv’s large central square. At that time he was the deputy director of the Iván Honchar Museum, an institution more concerned with traditional musical instruments and religious art than with bombs and banners. Frustrated by the lack of response to protests from his colleagues, many of whom felt paralyzed as state employees, Poshyvailo began secretly visiting the occupation. His mission grew as word spread and he was joined by a team of like-minded curators.
“People were surprised, some even mistrusted. There was this battle and fight, and we were going to collect items.” said.
After Yanukovych was ousted from power and the new government was installed, the museum was formalized and supported by the state. A design competition was held to build its headquarters, a site in central kyiv was identified, and construction was supposed to start this year.
Poshyvailo has no illusions about the danger of continuing his mission. “Putin is very open in his desire to destroy the Maidan revolution and therefore the museum is likely to be number one on the list to be liquidated.”
For the curator it is clear that the Russian occupiers have the priority profiles ready to be imprisoned: military, politicians, civil activists, but also cultural activists, especially like him and his colleagues, who use culture to tell the story of Ukrainian identity.
According to reports, Two employees of the Melitopol Museum of Local History were recently kidnapped after refusing to tell the Russian occupiers the location of objects in the institution’s collection.
However, Poshyvailo said he will not back down and is optimistic Ukraine will win the war and his institution will one day open its doors to the public.
“As a historian, these times are so strange. It’s a mix of safety concerns and everyday precautions; the concern that kyiv will be attacked, that a nuclear weapon will be used; but there is also this feeling that we are living in a special moment and it is our job to preserve this moment”he concluded.
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