Unique, phantasmagoric drawings by Ukrainian artist Polina Raiko in the genre of naïve art were completely destroyed. The artist’s house-museum in Oleshky in southern Ukraine was flooded after the Russian military blew up the Kakhovka HPP dam. The water reached the roof, and when the level dropped, it became clear that it had caused irreparable harm.
Polina Raiko started painting at the age of 69, without any artistic education. The first work of the primitivist genius was an image of a white dove on a gate. Later, the entire house, the outbuildings, and the graves of her relatives in the cemetery were transformed into art objects.
90% of Raiko’s artistic heritage was kept in her house-museum.
These unique masterpieces of naïve art have been lost as a result of the terrorist attack by Russia, as well as thousands of other cultural property destroyed and looted by the Russian army in Ukraine.
The brutal, destructive power of war stops neither before taking an innocent life nor before an astonishing work that carries the cultural codes of thousands of years of human history.
Some of the world’s masterpieces, defenseless and fragile, caught amid senseless violence, managed to “survive” only due to one factor: caring people who risked their own lives to save artifacts of significance to all of humanity.
Who and how saved unique cultural objects during the wars
Adolf Hitler had an ambitious plan to turn his childhood city of Linz into a supermuseum that would house the most famous works of art from across the world.
To fulfill the Fuhrer’s morbid dream, the Nazis deliberately looted museums and private collections across Europe. What could not be stolen was destroyed during the battles.
In particular, 6,500 paintings, including works by Michelangelo, Rubens, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, as well as the Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers, were kept in a secret vault in a salt mine in the Austrian town of Altaussee. In case of the German army’s defeat, the vault was to be blown up.
It is said that the plan was thwarted by local miners who managed to replace the powerful explosives with smaller charges. The explosion destroyed the entrance to the vault, but the masterpieces survived. After the war, they were discovered by the so-called Monuments Men, a special unit that searched for works of European art.
The British were well aware of the threat posed by Nazi ambitions so there was a need to immediately evacuate 1,800 paintings of the famous National Gallery in London. At first, they were planned to be transported by sea to Canada. However, Kenneth Clarke, the gallery’s director, considered the plan threatening and appealed to the Prime Minister for a better solution.
“Hide them in caves and cellars, but not a single painting must leave the islands,” Winston Churchill said in 1940. And the collection was sent to an out-of-service slate quarry in Manod, North Wales. Other treasures were also hidden in the most unusual places.
The famous Elgin Marbles, a collection of sculptures and architectural fragments from the Athenian Acropolis, were hidden in Aldwych Underground Station. The British Museum sent works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, the Magna Carta, and rare books by Shakespeare and Milton to the National Library in Aberystwyth, Central Wales.
France also preserved its heritage. In 1939, 3,600 paintings were taken from the Louvre in Paris and hidden in safe places. The Mona Lisa was transported at least 5 times to prevent the Nazis from tracing its whereabouts.
Special operation to save a sacred relic of the Kyivan princes
In the fall of 1943, Ukraine became a battlefield between two dictators, Hitler and Stalin. At that time, unique works of art and artifacts had to be saved not only from the Nazis, but also from the excessive appetites of Moscow and Leningrad. The Russians expropriated Ukrainian national treasures on a massive scale, justifying it with security and scientific research. Artifacts were rarely returned.
Built in 1017, at the time of Kyivan Prince Yaroslav the Wise, St. Sophia Cathedral housed a number of priceless artifacts. One of them was the centuries-old miraculous icon of St. Nicholas the Wet, which was secretly taken away in October 1943. Although versions of these events differ, the most likely is a complex special operation conducted by a double agent, Major Paul von Dernbach, who was actually a centurion in the UPR army, Pavlo Dmytrenko. Researchers are inclined to believe that he managed to take the shrine to Warsaw and subsequently hand it over to the Archbishop of Krakow and Palladius of Lemko region.
Later, the icon was transported to the United States, where it was kept in strict secrecy by representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora for many decades. Eventually, one of the most revered shrines of St. Sophia Cathedral was found in the Brooklyn borough, NYC, namely in the Holy Trinity Church, which belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
In 2022, it was announced that the conservators intended to return the oldest icon of Kyivan Rus to its historical homeland, the St. Sophia Cathedral in the center of the Ukrainian capital. However, the war prevented these plans.
A 300-year-old Ukrainian Gospel under racist occupation
A few years ago, the local history museum in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium celebrated its 100th anniversary, marking the occasion with a new exhibition of unique archaeological finds and exhibits. Most of them came to the museum in the 1950s to update the collection, which was almost completely destroyed during World War II, as well as the museum building itself. No one then realized that the museum and the collection would have to go through this horror again.
In February 2022, the Russian army invaded the Ukrainian Kharkiv region. The Russians mercilessly shelled Izium with rockets and artillery shells. One of them hit the museum building leaving a huge hole on the second floor. The city was under full occupation. Civilians could not leave the city. The Russian military looted, tortured and killed people for any hint of civic engagement.
Risking their lives, the museum staff decided to save the collection. They removed the exhibits from the rubble of the building and began to hide them. The rescue of one of the most valuable artifacts, a 300-year-old Holy Gospel from the time of Ivan Mazepa in a silver and gilded binding, almost cost the museum workers their lives. The workers knew they would not be able to take the book out of Izium and realized that sooner or later the barbarian occupiers would come for the treasure. They took the book from the museum under fire and hid it in a safe place.
Only 6 months later, when the city was de-occupied during a counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army, the 1707 edition of the Gospel was taken out of the improvised hiding place and sent for restoration. During World War II, the book was also miraculously saved from complete destruction. Then, in violation of all the museum rules and regulations, the unique 300-year-old book was kept in a vault underground.
According to preliminary data from UNESCO alone, the actions of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine have caused $2.6 billion in damage to cultural heritage.
However, not a single amount of money can bring back the unique historical, cultural, and artistic sites that have been lost forever to humanity.
In pursuit of his own bloodthirsty intentions, Putin today, like Hitler almost a century ago, ignores any public interest. After all, this is exactly what we should expect from dictators.
Source: The Gaze