Getty condemns cultural ‘atrocities’ as Ukrainian heritage museum burns

2 March 2022

In this file photo, the work of Ukrainian folk art painter Maria Primachenko is displayed in Mystetsky Arsenal art gallery in Kyiv, Ukraine. About 50 miles to the north, 25 Primachenko canvases were reportedly destroyed as advancing Russian troops burned

Written by Jessica Gelt, originally published by Los Angeles Times, 28 February 2022. 

As Ukrainian civilians face the terror of a Russian military barrage advancing on Kyiv, art scholars have begun decrying fallout of another kind: the destruction of the country’s cultural heritage, including the apparent burning of the Ivankiv Museum about 50 miles north of the capital.

The J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles on Monday added its voice to the censure, condemning Russian for the “deliberate” burning of sites linked to the history of arts and culture in Ukraine.

“News reports indicate that among the many atrocities being committed in Ukraine over the past few days of Putin’s War, Russian forces have begun destroying Ukrainian cultural heritage,” read the statement from Getty President and Chief Executive James Cuno.

Cuno said the Ivankiv Museum “housed precious Ukrainian folk art,” and quoted Ukrainian scholars who called the Russian invasion “an unfolding cultural catastrophe.”

According to a tweet from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the museum’s treasures included 25 works by the beloved late folk artist Maria Primachenko, who began exhibiting her work in the 1930s and was admired by Pablo Picasso. Unconfirmed video on social media sites showed a single story building identified as the Ivankiv Museum engulfed in flames.

According to the museum’s website, the institution was founded in 1981 and kept as the pride of its collection “an exhibition of paintings of the first magnitude by Maria Ovksentiyivna Primachenko.” It lists her many honorifics: “People’s Artist of Ukraine, Honored Artist of Ukraine, member of the Union of Artists of Ukraine. Laureate of the Taras Shevchenko State Prize of Ukraine.”

The Getty’s statement acknowledged that as war in the region escalates, much more is at stake.

“At risk in Ukraine are millions of artworks and monuments, including monuments representing centuries of history from the Byzantine to the Baroque periods, as well as UNESCO World Heritage sites,” Cuno said, concluding: “The material cultural legacy of the world is our common heritage, the identity and inspiration for all humanity. Cultural heritage has the power to unite us and is critical for achieving peace. It is also too often the target of war, another way to destroy and overtake a society by erasing its memory.”