Staff at Kharkiv Art Museum Working Desperately to Save Masterpieces

Workers in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv are trying to save around 25,000 pieces of art in the city's museum from Russian shelling.

As the war on Ukraine passes the two-week mark, Russian forces continue to surround numerous cities within the country. This includes Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city and a key industrial hub. With Russian bombs continuing to fall, citizens in the city are trying to prevent Kharkiv from being turned to rubble. This effort is especially evident at the Kharkiv Art Museum.

While the museum building itself remains intact, photos show that the majority of the windows have been blown out by a number of airstrikes. In addition, the museum is said to be covered in a layer of dust and debris.

The museum is described by the Kharkiv tourism website as "one of the oldest museums of Kharkov, and one of the most valuable in Ukraine," and contains "unique masterpieces of Ukrainian and world painting, sculpture, graphics, arts and crafts." This includes "more than 250 works of Ukrainian and Russian art of the [19th] and [20th] centuries," the website says.

Kharkiv Art Museum
Staff at the Kharkiv Art Museum in Ukraine's second-largest city are working to save countless pieces of art from continued shelling by the Russian invaders. The pieces in the collection are estimated to be over 25,000, many of them by Russian artists. Here, the abandoned science library in Kharkiv, near the art museum, can be seen. Sergey Bobok/Getty

As efforts to save the artwork continue, Maryna Filatova, the head of the museum's foreign art department, spoke to Reuters about the collection.

"There are more than 25,000 items in our collection," Filatova told Reuters. "Kharkiv Art Museum's collection is one of the biggest in Ukraine, one of the most valuable."

Ironically, Filatova said that while the Russians continue to drop bombs on the museum, many of the pieces within the collection were created by Russian artists, not Ukrainians.

"It is simply the irony of fate that we should be saving Russian artists, paintings by Russian artists, from their own nation," Filatova said. "This is simply barbarism."

Filatova also noted that the windows being blown out had made it impossible to control the temperature and humidity within the building—something that is key to preserving the older paintings. She said that one of the museum's most prized paintings, Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks by Russian painter Ilya Repin, had to be taken down and put in storage, which could potentially damage the artwork.

"Repin's painting, basically, it should not be moved," Filatova said. "Temperature or humidity conditions are not recommended. Any movement should be avoided. We treat it with great care, but there is not a single window intact in this room."

"Thank God there is no damage that anyone can see. The real damage we will only be able to assess in a peaceful time, when it is calm," Filatova said. "Workers, women that are still in town, we will work and do our best to save it all. We are taking the paintings down and will hide them," adding that: "We are doing our best to preserve them."

As people around Kharkiv attempt to fend off the Russian invasion, a recent estimate from the beginning of March said that at least 34 civilians had been killed in the region around the city. This is in addition to Mariupol, another city 260 miles south of Kharkiv, being stranded without electricity, running water or food, as the Russians have taken over.

The city made headlines around the world after the Russians reportedly shelled a maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol. The blast killed at least three people and injured 17, according to city officials.

Newsweek has reached out to the city of Kharkiv for comment.