Museums race against time to save Ukraine’s cultural treasures

Atika Shubert, CNN

The walls of the National Museum in Lviv are bare. Elaborate gold-lacquered panels, on display after being salvaged from 17th-century Baroque churches, have been bundled together and hidden underground in a race to save the city’s cultural treasures from a possible Russian attack.

“Today we see how Russia is bombing residential areas (and) even evacuating people,” said Lviv National Museum director Ihor Kozhan. “They guaranteed they wouldn’t, but now we can’t trust them. And we have to take care of our heritage because it is our national treasure.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has already destroyed a museum containing works by the famous Ukrainian painter Maria Prymachenko, whose vivid and imaginative art was admired by both Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. Today, the city of Lviv, often dubbed the cultural capital of Ukraine, is fighting to protect its rich collection of historic art.

Lviv’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the National Museum houses the country’s most comprehensive collection of sacred medieval art and rare religious manuscripts.

The rush to save his books, paintings and other artifacts left little time to wait for specialized packing materials. Instead, volunteers make do by hastily nailing crates from available wood.

On Monday, volunteers hastily packed ancient manuscripts into cardboard boxes originally intended for transporting bananas to supermarkets. Among them was a millennial Bible adorned with gold threads.

At religious sites, people are also preparing for the worst. The Armenian Cathedral in Lviv has removed a medieval wooden sculpture depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to safe storage. After surviving World War II, the giant stained glass windows of Lviv’s Latin Cathedral are now covered with steel plates. Many of the city’s iconic statues are now swaddled in bubble wrap.

But simply securing and storing art and historical objects may not be enough to save them. There are also evolving plans to evacuate valuable works of art from besieged cities, such as Kiev and Kharkiv, if necessary – possibly to safer cities such as Lviv.

“We are ready to help in any way we can, for all museums in the country that are currently in danger,” Kozhan said, warning that even Lviv’s many protected heritage sites could be targeted by invasion.

Watch the video above for CNN’s full Lviv report.

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