director of the Memorial Museum of Totalitarian Regimes “Territory of Terror”, founder of the Museum Crisis Center, as part of the Ukrainian Days in Hamburg, at the Museum of World Cultures and Arts (MARKK).
May 8, 2022
Translation: Kateryna Marko
Фото: Antonina Sievierova
Good afternoon, colleagues!
My name is Olha Honchar – I am the director of the municipal Memorial Museum of Totalitarian Regimes “Territory of Terror” in Lviv. A third of my life Ukraine is at war.
Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The Territory of Terror Museum is located on the territory of the former Lviv ghetto and transit prison № 25. In our work we seek to comprehend the tragic pages of the history of the mid-twentieth century. Our focus is on the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes.
Museum “Territory of Terror“ in Lviv. Photo from the museum archive
Liana at the museum recording an interview with a witness to the terror Photo from the museum archive.
Until February 24, 2022, the museum team was engaged in the usual museum work: recording oral histories of witnesses of totalitarian regimes, presenting the museum’s collections online, responding to pandemic challenges, conducting tours of the main exhibition, planning public events, continuing to collect the Soviet Monumental Art Collection.
On February 24, 2022, I found out about the war from my mother: “Olya, in Brovary [my hometown near Kyiv], shelling! The windows are shaking! We are leaving for Lviv. ”
For most Ukrainians around the world, this day began in a similar way.
The museum team and I decided to stay in Lviv to preserve the museum and our collections. Now my colleagues combine museum work and volunteering.
For example, Liana, a historian and oral history interviewer who received her master’s degree a few days before the war, now heads a logistics headquarters in Zhovkva that collects and distributes humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian military. And our cashier, Ms. Nadiya, bakes homemade cakes for our boys and girls at the front.
Liana – a volunteer in Zhovkva with the military. Photo from a private archive.
Cashier Nadiya and pies. Photo from a private archive.
Only one employee left the museum team. The war came to her for the second time. She first fled to Lviv from Donetsk in 2014. Now she was forced to emigrate to Germany, to her relatives. Her health has deteriorated.
Other workers remain in the city. The men who work in our team are currently not subject to general mobilization and continue to work in their specialty. Women with children also stay in the city. Their husbands are now at war.
Over the past two months, we have focused on strengthening the security of our stock collections and workplaces. This work would have been impossible without the help of international partners and friends of the museum. After all, the main efforts of local self-government and the state are aimed at supporting civilians and the Ukrainian army.
We uploaded the museum’s stock collection online thanks to the support of our German friends, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Foundation; have strengthened the security of the museum’s funds and infrastructure through the International Coalition for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Conflict Zone of the ALIPH Foundation, based in Switzerland.
We have received many important materials from friends in Poland to preserve the exhibits – government-based committees have been set up to help Ukrainian museums (Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine, Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa, Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego, Stołeczny Konserwator Zabytków, Fundacja Dziedzictwa Kulturowego, Komitet Pomocy Muzeom Ukrainy / Committee for Ukrainian Museums); we received financial support from the international organization “House of Europe” for the implementation of anti-crisis work during the war.
We also hosted evacuated private collections at the museum. For security reasons, their names have not yet been revealed.
Our long-term partner moved to us – Luhansk Regional Museum of Local Lore from Starobilsk, Luhansk region. This is the second move for the museum, as they first had moved to Starobilsk from Luhansk due to the Russian occupation of the city in 2015. Now Russia has occupied Starobilsk. Therefore, the museum moved to Lviv.
The director of the museum and her son spent a month in the occupation. They managed to leave with the help of our armed forces. Other relatives of my colleague stayed there. Like most of the staff of the Luhansk Regional Museum of Local Lore. Currently, it is impossible to leave this city due to constant hostilities. There are no humanitarian corridors.
It is already known about cases of abduction and persecution of people with a pro-Ukrainian position, burning books written in Ukrainian, because the Ukrainian language is prohibited in the occupied territories; destruction of exhibits in occupied museums that tell about Ukrainian history, identity and Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Our team helps to restore the financial, administrative and program activities of the Luhansk Regional Museum of Local Lore. Its director lives with my accountant and works at our museum’s computer. Her son will graduate from the first grade in Lviv.
As of today, we are still waiting for the official position and instructions from the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine on museums and workers under occupation, as well as on people and museums who managed to leave. While official structures “think”, old and new partnerships and human connections work and save people.
On March 3, the 8th day of the war, I wrote a post on Facebook about how to help museum workers who remained in Ukraine. After all, most opportunities for support were provided to Ukrainian cultural figures who go abroad. In a few minutes, my friends wrote back to me with the words “Olya, let’s organize such support” – this is how the Museum Crisis Center was created.
In two months, we have become a team of 12 museum workers and cultural workers who work daily to raise and distribute funds and monitor the condition of museum workers throughout Ukraine. Representatives of the team are based in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Vinnytsia, Chernihiv, Uzhhorod, Poland. We have developed an effective algorithm of assistance within the legislation of Ukraine, using the online banking system.
I must say that every day we work under the sound of sirens and under the threat of air attacks. There are no safe places left in Ukraine, but your home is where you are trying to sleep: “in the corridor”, shelter; it is a potential target every day.
We provide individual financial support to museum workers who continue to go to work in the occupation and under fire. Most of this assistance goes to food, water, medicine. For example, the director of a museum in the occupied territories bought a bag of flour and divided it among the workers. Many of the museum workers we have supported have not been paid since February 24, but continue to work at the museum.
There are colleagues who lost their homes or relatives – rockets flew at them – people whose relatives died at the front or were killed by Russian terrorists.
The state system, which provided finances for budget workers, is not fully operational: cities are occupied, office buildings are destroyed, machinery is destroyed, people are killed.
Legally, the Museum Crisis Center exists as an association of public organizations “Other Education” and “New Museum”, cultural professionals. Under martial law, it was possible to effectively and efficiently manage funds in the field of culture and remain within the law only thanks to the tools of public organizations.
For 66 days of activity we supported 79 museums and 530 people for the total amount of UAH 1,021,885. or 31,821 euros.
In the first days of the war we were supported by Mitost (Berlin), the European Commission within the framework of the program “People’s Power”, Kyiv Biennale, Pinchuk Art Center. There were also private contributions from people, mostly from the United States, who learned about the initiative from the media. From the artistic environment, actions were held in support of Ukrainian culture in Amsterdam, France, where funds were raised; art auctions were held in Venice at the Biennale, a charity auction in London, the funds from which were transferred to us and other initiatives. The last art auction took place in Belgium on May 15.
We have also received support from the ALIPH Foundation, the international company Elementum Energy (Renewable Energy), and we expect support from The Sigrid Rausing Trust.
The Ivan Franko House Museum in Lviv conducted charity tours and also donated money to us.
Special thanks to Svenja Kunze from the Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (Social Research). They raised 2,000 euros for the Museum Crisis Center.
The most difficult part of the Museum Crisis Center’s work is to explain that museum workers who stay in Ukraine to work are as important as the exhibits that need to be protected. Ukrainian museologists are professionals with relevant knowledge, as important a part of heritage as physical artifacts. It is also important to support them financially so that there is someone to “manually” pack the exhibits in materials and in boxes that come from international organizations. And these same people, their experience and knowledge will be relevant when bombs stop flying to Ukraine and we will talk about the restoration of exhibits, the reconstruction of museums.
Unfortunately, the cultural sphere of Ukraine did not receive sufficient funding before the war. There are already government decisions to reduce funding for salaries of cultural personnel.
I am afraid, considering the whole situation and the hostilities, that we may simply lose an entire industry of professionals who will have to change professions in order to survive.
Therefore, from the first days of the war and further within the work of the Museum Crisis Center, it is important for me to talk about the importance of cultural personnel and support colleagues.
What’s next? I ask myself this question every day. It is important for me to do everything in my power to stay and work in Ukraine, to preserve my Territory of Terror museum, my team, and continue to develop the Museum Crisis Center. Live your full life in Ukraine. I am often criticized for looking too normal and optimistic in times of revolution, pandemic, war, but I think it is more of a “compliment”.
My supervisor Olga Mukha says that Ukrainians are a nation of happy people. Yes, we know what happiness, love, friendship, mutual support are, and we are brave. As you know, the phrase “be brave, be like a Ukrainian” is popular now.
Museologists are museologists. Therefore, during the evacuation from Lviv to Starobilsk, my colleague took an exhibit of our new joint collection “Victory Collection of Ukraine” – a parachute from the Russian interceptor shot down by the Ukrainian military near Starobilsk. This is the first exhibit, but new exhibits are on the way from the Ukrainian military.
Directors of museums, Olesya and Olha, (Starobilsk-Lviv), with a parachute from the Russian interceptor, shot down by the Ukrainian military near Starobilsk, April 2022. Photo from the archive of the museum “Territory of Terror”
Finally, I want to tell another story. Today, May 8, Europe celebrates Remembrance and Reconciliation Day in memory of the victims of World War II.
My grandmother’s brother-in-law, Mykhailo, was left an orphan as a child during World War II. His family was dispossessed by the Soviet authorities and sent to Siberia.
Then he served in the army. Then he went to study journalism in Chernivtsi. At the university he was recruited into the national-patriotic Ukrainian circle, which, as it turned out, was created by the NKVD, and for participating in it, he was repressed and sent to the Gulag.
He was waiting for his stage in the remand prison № 25 in Lviv, where the Territory of Terror Museum now stands, which I run today.
This is the story of only one Ukrainian family, and there are millions of such stories. It shows once again that the Soviet totalitarian regime, which Russia considers itself its successor, is systematically destroying entire generations of Ukrainians.
Today we see that history repeats itself with incredible cruelty. There is a real war in Ukraine, well-thought-out and ruthless – the genocide of the Ukrainian people is taking place, and therefore Ukrainian culture is being purposefully and carefully destroyed by Russian terrorists.
On May 7, a memorial rocket destroyed a memorial museum of the world-famous Ukrainian philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda in the Kharkiv region.
Skovoroda Museum in Kharkiv Region “before” and “after” the Russian missile hit on May 7, 2022. Photo from the open sources.
The slogan of the new world was “Never again”, but it turned into “We can repeat”.
The war in Ukraine today is a serious challenge for the world, as it has become clear that the old “rules of the game”, agreements, algorithms, including the preservation of cultural heritage, are not effective. What even can be effective when a rocket hits your museum?
That is why today the whole world must unite and help Ukraine stop the “Russian peace”. After all, Russia’s war against Ukraine is also a war to remain a human-faced man from planet Earth.
I urge you to support the Museum Crisis Center and our Ukrainian museums after the victory!