On May 7, the New York Times reported that Lviv’s National Gallery, the largest museum in Ukraine, was reopening several of its 18 branches as an act of defiance to Russia’s devastating war campaign in the country. Many of its walls are bare, however, as the treasures of the collection, including works by Francisco Goya, Peter Paul Rubens, and Georges de La Tour, have been hidden away.
Since the Russian invasion began in February, reports have surfaced of what appears to be a focused campaign of cultural destruction throughout Ukraine. Both countries have signed the 1954 Hague Convention, which was drafted to safeguard cultural heritage during periods of war. A UNESCO declaration in March expressed concern that Russian forces were “directing unlawful attacks” against cultural sites in Ukraine, violating the international code developed following World War II.
As of May 9, UNESCO has verified damage to 127 landmarks in Ukraine, including 11 museums, 54 religious buildings, and 15 monuments; a statue of Taras Shevchenko, the foremost Ukrainian poet and leader of Ukraine’s national revival, was hit with gunfire in the occupied town of Borodianka, outside Kyiv. Ukrainian officials allege that Russian troops have looted more 2,000 artworks from three cultural institutions in the battered port city of Mariupol.
“Each day of this war, the Russian army does something that leaves you speechless,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said. “Targeted attacks on museums—this wouldn’t cross even a terrorist’s mind. But this is the army that’s waging war on us.”
Below is a list of several of the most notable cultural casualties of the war in Ukraine. The list will be updated as events unfold.
Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum
Days after the invasion of Ukraine commenced, reports began circulating on social media that 25 paintings by Ukrainian self-taught artist Maria Prymachenko held in the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum had been burned by Russian troops. Prymachenko, a folk artist who died in 1997, is revered locally for her vibrantly colored paintings of mythical creatures and serene depictions of daily Ukrainian life. Emine Dzheppar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of cultural affairs, posted footage that appeared to show the museum on fire. “Having no culture of their own, they destroy all the heritage of other nations,” she wrote on Twitter, referring to the Russian troops accused of attacking the museum.
Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol
The Kuindzhi Art Museum, devoted to the life and work of influential Ukrainian realist painter Arkhip Kuindzhi, was destroyed on March 21 during the Russian shelling of the eastern port city of Mariupol. The news was first reported by the Lviv-based culture website Local History, and later confirmed by the chairman of Ukraine’s artists union, Konstantin Chernyavsky, in a Facebook post.
Born in Mariupol in 1842, Arkhip Kuindzhi earned a following in both Ukraine and Russia for his extraordinary use of light and color. Initially associated with the 19th-century Russian realist painters, known as the Wanderers, he parted ways with the group to pursue his own vibrant landscapes, such as Red Sunset on the Dnieper (1905–8), which is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Kuindzhi Museum, which operated in an Art Nouveau landmark, counted more than 600 paintings by 20th-century Ukrainian artists in its collection. It is presumed that several works by a range of historic and contemporary Ukrainian artists, including Ivan Aivazovsky, Mykola Hlushchenko, Vasyl Korenchuk, and Oleksandr Bondarenko, have been destroyed.
Chernyavsky told Local History that the three original paintings by Kuindzhi in the collection—a sketch for Red Sunset, and two preparatory works, Elbrus and Autumn, Crimea—had been removed from the museum prior to the bombing. On April 30, the Washington Post reported that the three paintings were among the trove of artworks and artifacts looted by Russian troops from Mariupol museums and taken to Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine’s separatist region backed by Russia.
“The occupiers ‘liberated’ Mariupol from its historical and cultural heritage,” Mariupol city council wrote in a Telegram message shared by the Post. “They stole and moved more than 2,000 unique exhibits from museums in Mariupol to Donetsk.”
Drobitsky Yar Holocaust Memorial in Kharkiv
The Kharkiv region, which has suffered a fierce campaign for control from Russia, is home to 22 damaged cultural sites, according to UNESCO. The Drobitsky Yar Holocaust memorial outside the city was shelled by Russia forces, Ukraine’s minister of defense Dmytro Kuleba announced via Twitter on March 26. Images shared on social media showed the complex, which marks where an estimated 16,000 Jews and prisoners of war were killed by Nazis during World War II, had been pockmarked by bullet holes. A large black menorah installed at the entrance to the memorial appeared to be in ruins.
Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol
On March 16, Russian forces bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, where as many as 1,200 civilians were estimated to have been sheltering. Satellite images showed the scorched, partially collapsed remains of the neoclassical structure; in photos captured before the building, the Russian word for “children” could clearly be seen written in chalk on either side of the theater.
The Ukrainian government estimated in March that around 300 people were likely killed in the attack. On May 4, the War Crimes Watch Ukraine project, a joint investigation launched by AP and PBS Frontline, reported evidence that close to 600 people died in the bombing, making it “the single deadliest known attack against civilians to date.”
G12 Art School in Mariupol
On March 20, the Mariupol City Council shared on the messaging service Telegram that the city’s G12 Art School, where hundreds of civilians had sought refuge, had been bombed. The messages were authenticated by various sources including including CNN and the Washington Post.
“Yesterday,” the message read, “the Russian occupiers dropped bombs on the G12 art school in the Left Bank district of Mariupol, where about 400 Mariupol residents were hiding.”
Among those sheltering in the school’s basement were “women, children and the elderly,” the city council said. “It is known that the building was destroyed, and peaceful people are still under the rubble.”
Chernihiv Regional Art Museum
The United Nations has reported damage to the Regional Art Museum, in the northeastern city of Chernihiv. The museum, located in a stately late 18th-century manor, displayed art from the collection of the Galagan Cossack family, including a small number of 16th-century Italian and Dutch painting, as well as works by Ukrainian and Russian artists such as Alexey Voloskov, Nikolai Ge, and Mikhail Clodt von Jürgensburg. The city had been battered by Russian forces throughout March. Around 200 civilians are estimated to have died in the siege, with hundreds more wounded. The state of the museum’s collection is currently unknown.
Kharkiv Art Museum
The Kharkiv Art Museum counts more than 25,000 artworks in its holdings, making it one of the largest and most valuable art collections in Ukraine. When the region came under heavy artillery and air fire in early March, museum staff raced to remove its collection, which includes pieces like renowned Russian painter Ilya Repin’s Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (1880–91) from the premises.
“It is simply irony of fate that we should be saving Russian artists, paintings by Russian artists from their own nation. This is simply barbarism,” Maryna Filatova, head of the foreign art department at the Kharkiv Art Museum, told Reuters in March.
On March 11, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Russian missile strike had shattered the windows of the regal 19th-century building, as well as the Korolenko library, which holds irreplaceable manuscripts.
Hryhoriy Skovoroda National Literary Memorial Museum in Skovorodynivka
On May 7, Zelenskyy announced in his daily video address that the historic home of 18th-century beloved Ukrainian poet and philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda was destroyed in a targeted Russian missile strike. The Skovoroda Museum was located in a small village far outside of militarized zones in Kharkiv.
“Last night, the Russian army deployed one of its missiles to destroy the Hryhorii Skovoroda Museum in Kharkiv Region,” he said. “A missile—to destroy a museum.”
Zelensky praised Skovoroda’s legacy, saying that the artist “taught people what a truly Christian life might look like and how a person might come to know” oneself. “It looks as if museums, the Christian outlook on life, and self-knowledge are all threats to contemporary Russia.”Skovoroda was a prominent figure in the 18th-century movement to redefine Ukraine cultural identity; 2022 marks the 300th anniversary of his birth.