The culture of Chernihiv Oblast can surprise the world, but it will be after the Victory
It is said that the Tryplian culture once appeared in these northern lands: where it appeared and where it disappeared is unknown, but not without a trace. The first written mention of Chernihiv can be found in Nestorova’s “Tales of Bygone Years” – the chronicler records that Prince Oleg of Kyiv concluded an agreement with the Greeks as a result of a successful campaign against Byzantium. Modern historians testify: the road to Tsargrad was familiar to the soldiers of Chernihiv since 860, from the first campaign of the Russians to Byzantium led by Prince Askold. Regardless of the dates, this is also where “the Russian land went.” Chernihiv always argued with Kyiv for first place, but was not second and was close. So in February 2022, these two cities together opposed the enemy. In an intercepted telephone conversation, the Russian occupier told someone that they were razing the city to the ground. Now it is known: out of more than 2,600 damaged and destroyed objects in Chernihiv – 20 cultural monuments and 16 religious buildings. Can culture be ready for war, how to adapt to wartime and, at the same time, give a new impetus to development – we talk about this with Yuriy Tkach, director of the Chernihiv Regional Art Museum. Grigory Galagan. In 2022, the museum received a grant from the European Union, thanks to which it survived the difficult winter and has ambitious plans for the future. On the cultural front, the EU also stands side by side with Ukraine, helping to preserve and develop. Mr. Yuri, Chernihiv is a border town. How to preserve museum values during the war? – Can a culture be ready for war – a philosophical question since peacetime. War leaves no options: we must be ready. We knew what to do in emergency situations according to the protocols, but we were completely unprepared materially and organizationally. Even if they wanted to take something out, they wouldn’t be able to do it, because there was no order (and we are a state institution), no transport, and no enough packing materials. We bought some, spending all available funds, but that was enough for the first round of packing, and we were already packing under shelling. On the 24th, there was a chance to take out at least part of the exposition, then the roads were covered under fire. And we decided: Chernihiv will not be surrendered, it is safer here than driving in unpredictable conditions. We hid everything we could in Chernihiv, a lot remained in our storage. The museum walls are powerful, they have withstood, but the windows have fallen out. But thank God, the collection did not suffer critical damage, we were spared the fate of Ivankov, the Skovorodyn Museum, the building of the Tarnovsky Museum of Antiquities, the injured memorial house of Kotsyubynskyi… But it was necessary to ensure proper storage of the museum collection, and with broken windows and without electricity, this is impossible. Was the European Union grant involved specifically for these purposes? – That’s right. Ukrainian culture is well trained to survive in peace, and war teaches to make quick decisions. Already in March, when the city was still under siege, we turned to international organizations and foundations for help, and at the same time we repaired the damage with our own resources. Later, when we received grant funds from the EU through the international alliance for the protection of cultural heritage in the conflict zone ALIPH FOUNDATION, we made some repairs, bought construction materials necessary for a possible evacuation. Of course, the main thing was to secure the collection, so everything was done to securely preserve all the rooms. Initially, it was planned to install metal armored shutters, but then they consulted with the grantor and sealed the windows, 30 of which were damaged, in a different way. Therefore, in winter, both the temperature and humidity level in the museum were within acceptable limits. Our special acquisition is a solar station. We launched it in the run-up to winter, providing back-up power in case of power outages – the building, which is currently operating, and the contemporary art department, are powered by a solar station. So, the EU grant is invested in preserving our heritage. But, of course, also in development: we have seen how profitable and reasonable it is to use alternative sources, so we plan to increase the share of “green energy” in the energy balance of our museum. This is a common European practice, and it is our contribution to the support of the energy front of Ukraine and to the protection of nature in general. We also received help from the museum community. Since the beginning of the Russian war, on the initiative of a group of museum workers in Ukraine, the Museum Crisis Center has been created, which helps colleagues throughout Ukraine with resources for the most mundane, but vital expenses – gasoline, packaging, wages for people who did not leave the museums and continued to work… Timeliness, scale and the significance of this work is even difficult to assess – perhaps later, after the war. Now we are simply grateful to them. It was the first organization that significantly and very quickly helped Chernihiv museum workers, and not only our museum. It was from the Museum Crisis Center, when the city was under siege, that we received first aid and were able to pay employees’ salaries. Then the Center handed over the generator to us – but it didn’t arrive, because the volunteer transport that was transporting it was shot near Chernihiv: the volunteers were killed, the cargo burned… Then volunteers from Kyiv brought us medicines and products for museum workers – and part of the costs were compensated by the Museum Crisis Center itself. The war goes on, but so does life: what is it like in the wartime museum? – The museum does not work in full. The first and second lines, like a year ago, are ready for evacuation and stored in a safe place. But, I hope, it is not evacuation that awaits us, but the restoration of the exposition. Now five halls are open: one in the shelter, four – on the floor. Currently, we only show works from private collections or digital copies of museum works, but we are preparing an exhibition of graphic reproductions for the museum’s 40th anniversary in May. In February and March, we showed the exhibition of our artists “This is my war” – beautiful and difficult, because we experienced it personally. And then they opened an exhibition of portraits and landscapes, because in times of war, people dream of peace and want to see peace. In the incomplete month of April, more than 170 guests visited the museum – with tickets, and there are also social projects, there are always students of the art school, and beneficiaries go – we do not record these numbers. What is important is that there are more young people, and this is also a challenge for us – to interest them and keep them. By the way, you mentioned the new “chips” of the museum… – Because of the war, we paid attention to the basement floor – it served as a shelter first for exhibits, then for people. When it became calmer, we remembered that a theater group once worked in that room, actors and amateurs even staged plays. So we decided to put things in order there, did almost a major renovation, installed the Internet, installed modern gallery lighting and equipment – and now the city has a new, modern art space. Up to 80 people can be freely accommodated there and not only exhibitions, but also concerts and discussions can be held there. There are two more small halls nearby – we also plan to connect them, because already today there is a request from artists for this site. In fact, there is also the merit of the European Union grant here – if we did not have the funds to repair and strengthen the museum, for the solar station, the issue of the new art space would be postponed indefinitely. But fortunately, we were able to do both. Does the museum make money? – Last year, despite the war, we earned almost as much as in the previous year – first of all, from state expertise services. In 2022, artists wrote a lot and sold works abroad, but in order to export a work of art outside the country, a certificate is required that it is modern art and is not an object of cultural heritage. At that time, even Kyiv museums did not provide this service, that is why they turned to us and still do, and we have a good income. And we are pleased that Ukrainian artists are in demand abroad – it is deserved. Is it worth investing in culture during war? – You should always invest in culture. Look at the experience of other countries, our closest neighbors – there culture is supported by the state, but does not beg, has its own funds, a resource for development, for transformations, for promotion – and therefore is known, interesting for people and attractive for artists. It’s good when culture is protected and has opportunities – but for that you need to invest in it and give it the opportunity to be free. By the way, how did your foreign colleagues support you? – We sincerely thank our colleagues from the European Union – for example, the Polish Committee for Assistance to Museums of Ukraine, created on the initiative of the director of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Jan Oldakowski, and the Pavel Vladkowicz Institute. Thanks to them, we bought equipment for digitizing museum collections, as well as restoration materials, because our restoration workshop was completely destroyed. It is not the first time that we receive aid from the EU and European countries – and it is put together like a puzzle: each action complements and develops the previous one and prepares the ground for the next one. In 2020, we raised funds from House of Europe to go online (due to covid). We did not interrupt the work process, held online exhibitions – now this experience and technical capabilities have come in handy. Since 2021, we have been running a grant project with the participation of Germany and a number of other countries – within its limits, 9 hubs were created in European countries, one of them – in Chernihiv. We prepared materials about art as a way of integration using the example of the life of internally displaced persons in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the Russian war, we reoriented this grant and together with the NGO “AmaTea Theater” prepared documentary stories about the war, which were shown abroad. Now, at the third stage of the project, we, together with our photographers Vladyslav Savenk and Valentin Bobir, were preparing materials for a photo exhibition about the events of February-March 2022 in Chernihiv. This photo-fixation of the destruction by the Russians of cultural heritage objects, the educational sector and people’s lives during the siege has already been seen live in Poland and Malta, and in Portugal and Turkey – in online format. The European Union reliably supports us in times of war, we would like every European to know that this aid, these funds are really very important for Ukraine and work for Victory. But it is no less important that people in Europe and the world realize what kind of enemy we are up against together. We have terabytes of photo materials and professionally edited documentary video about the events in Chernihiv during the war years. In cooperation with Suspilnyi – Chernihiv, we have prepared these materials with an English translation – specifically for a foreign audience. Because sometimes people there simply lack information about real events. A case in point is our exhibition in Malta during the European Higher Education Forum. Participants from more than 20 European countries were amazed by what they saw and heard, which they simply did not know about. And this exhibition is also our contribution to the united cultural front. Ukrainian cultural heritage: what do we preserve, what distinguishes us and what is interesting to the world? – If we talk about artists, Ukraine is identified by our artists of the 19th century. These are Ukrainian artists, although the state in which they worked was called the Russian Empire. And then there is Ukrainian Baroque, there is an amazing collection of over 300 unique icons. There are Zhuk and Bogomazov, who represent the 20th century. At the same time, our patrons – the Tereshchenkas, the Galagans, the Tarnovskis collected not only Ukrainian works, but also works of Eastern and Western art, brought them to Ukraine, and therefore involved Ukrainian society in the world cultural process. We also see their collections today – so their work continues, the heritage is preserved, world culture is presented in Ukraine as well – as Ukrainian patrons wanted. And we would also like the collections of Ukrainian museums to be known in the world, so, for example, the portrait gallery of the Galagans, some old Western European masters, Ukrainian painting of the 20th century from our museum can already be found through Google. And there, of course, we will show the culture of Chernihiv region in the Ukrainian and global context – it is capable of surprising. But everything is after the Victory. You can find out more about EU projects and see the cultural mosaic “Together we create. Together we save” by following the link: #РазомЗберигајом #РазомТворимо The publication was prepared with the support of the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union.
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