Could you tell me about the work you do at the Territory of Terror Museum?
I am the head of the museum and I administer and coordinate all of the departments – so, the fund work department, the information department, the department of development. I also participate in the creation of the museum’s concept and I am a representative for it. The Territory of Terror Museum is small, we have a small team, and we are all involved in solving various problems. In times of crisis – COVID or war – I must quickly come up with plans for survival.
Why was the museum founded? Was its curation influenced by Maidan and the events since?
The museum was founded by the Lviv City Council in 2009 and it is based on the oral history of people who experienced repression and deportation, mostly from Lviv and Western Ukraine. Initially, it was planned that our museum would be located on the premises of the Prison on Lontskogo Street [a former detention center used primarily for political prisoners]. However, then the Prison became a national museum, and the city wanted to have its own museum related to this topic. If at the beginning of the Territory of Terror Museum, [it focused mainly on] experiences in Lviv and Western Ukraine, after Maidan in 2014, it became clear that in addition to our local experience, there was a need to explore the experience of other peoples – Poles, Jewish people, and other ethnic groups – that were repressed. Lviv is a multinational city, and the Nazi and Soviet terror concerned not only Ukrainians or residents of Lviv. The Revolution of Dignity was the turning point when we began to look at this history more broadly – not through a national or religious perspective, but through a human one. We explore human beings at times when darkness is thickening, and what they choose to do – to become righteous in the world or a collaborator, kill or save, or perhaps just wait for better times. It is likely because the Revolution of Dignity showed the international dimension of Ukraine that we began to see ourselves as not just a post-Soviet, a post-colonial, or a post-totalitarian country, but as a subjective and independent state.
The museum focuses on violence and terror. How has the history preserved there shaped the response to the Russian invasion? Do you think there are parallels right now to past events?
In our museum there are about 400 interviews that show the experiences of people repressed in the USSR, mostly Ukrainians. Particularly, we have the stories of Ukrainian artists who were persecuted for not adhering to the canons of Socialist Realism, or for nationalism, as interpreted by the USSR. These stories demonstrate the Soviet Union’s desire to destroy Ukraine. And Russia, as the successor to the Soviet Union, retains this longevity. Our witnesses always say that Ukrainians who speak Russian perfectly are those who came from exile, and their Russian is the language of their life abroad, they learned it because they had to survive. It also shows that the Russian language in Ukraine is part of a plan to persecute Ukrainians, as well as a way to survive extermination.
In my opinion, the current events are part of a long plan to destroy Ukraine. The idea of invasion on February 24th did not arise spontaneously, today or yesterday, it is a continuation of the Russian-Ukrainian war, which has lasted more than a hundred years. But the methods by which this war is waged cannot be compared with other wars, because a new form of evil emerges now. After all, all international agreements – to not shoot at doctors, cultural sites, or residential areas – are not followed. What Russia is doing cannot be called ‘Nazism’ or ‘fascism’, it is a new evil for which a term has not been coined yet. The established security system, to which we were used to in the second half of the 20th and early 21st century, does not work. The Minister of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, Head of the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Iryna Vereshchuk, said yesterday that the Red Cross is afraid to come here, that the UN mission is not effective. We see the Russian military firing on humanitarian corridors, stealing humanitarian aid, shelling maternity houses and hospitals: this is the new face of evil.
Therefore, after the victory, our museum will have a lot of work to [record] and note it, but now we are busy with different work.
What are you focusing on currently?
First, [our heritage protection work focuses on] the preservation of the Museum’s Territory of Terror collection and strengthening our security through cooperation with international donors. Secondly, on March 3rd, in partnership with various public organizations and partners of our museum, I founded the Museum Crisis Center. As I was in contact with the directors of the museums who came under air strikes, I realized that museum workers in these regions were left without any resource to survive, and many were not paid. When they started bombing, it turned out that there was no money. We immediately started monitoring the needs of museums and museum staff [to see] who requires funds for basic needs and how much. We started looking for people who can provide these funds and linking those who can help with those who need help. During the first 15 days of war, we supported 36 museum institutions in eight regions, which includes 194 people. [The infographic below gives more recent numbers.]
The Museum Crisis Center now covers priority needs without the cumbersome bureaucratic procedures of public authorities, and further we consider the work of the center as an initiative to preserve cultural heritage.