For three days, Natalija Tjerhik, exhibition manager at the Chortytsia cultural reserve, traveled with well-packaged cultural treasures without knowing what the final destination was. The only direction she and the driver had been given when they started in Zaporizhzhya was – west. Only on the fourth day did they receive precise information about the location of the hiding place. Now she can’t tell anyone.
According to Tjerhik, the Russians have a reputation for torturing museum employees in occupied parts of Ukraine to obtain information about cultural treasures. She has known this since 2014 when the war in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions began.
— I understood then that if the war comes here, it is best to move the collection. We have to go as far away as we can with the objects, says Natalija Tjerhik to TT.
This week, together with three colleagues, she visited her Swedish colleagues at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm to talk about how to preserve cultural heritage during war. A meeting that also gave the Ukrainians respite from the war. And which gave the Vasa Museum insight into how to act in the event of an invasion.
The reserve Chortytsia is like a large open-air museum, which includes above all a large island of the same name in the river Dnieper, in the Ukrainian metropolis of Zaporizhzhya. It is known for its weapons and its Cossack history, which constitute Ukraine’s most prosperous period between the 16th and 18th centuries.
In order to preserve the cultural heritage, the collection has been divided into three categories with a highest and a lowest priority. Important stone sculptures and shipwrecks on the museum site have been buried and sandbags have been placed around them to protect them in place.
The ship may remain
The Vasa Museum is now making similar preparations.
— We have gone through the entire collection. We have also started to make the same order of priority for all our museums, but these are very difficult questions. What do we do if we don’t have time to save the entire collection? says Fred Hocker, research leader at the Vasa Museum.
— And we must accept as a basic principle that we cannot move the Vasa ship, we must protect in place.
Arrangements for hiding places for national treasures have begun, according to Hocker, but where and how is top secret.
— We now understand that we have to be careful with how we spread information.
Robots strike down
Chortytsia is only a few miles from the front line to the south. At least 20 robots have hit the museum island, but Natalija Tjerhik and her colleagues still long for home. They miss their motherland Ukraine and say that many who fled want to return. Besides, they have important work to do.
— I want to preserve our cultural heritage for the future. I want to fight for our country, says Polina Petrasjyna, senior researcher and curator, who is also considering enlisting.