March 12 – The destruction of the Museum of Vasil’ Tarnovsky

On March 11, Russian forces severely damaged an important historical building in Chernihiv. Destructive fire rained down on the Youth Library in the 19th century Gothic Revival building on the city’s outskirts.

This architectural treasure, originally built as the trade school of the local orphanage, was redesigned at the turn of the last century. Starting in 1901, it housed the Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities of Vasil’ Tarnovsky the Younger (1837-1899), a prominent citizen of Chernihiv. Tarnovsky amassed a unique collection of objects and archival documents, including the personal weapons of such Ukrainian hetmans as Ivan Mazepa and Bohdan Hmelnytsky; and manuscripts and drawings by Taras Shevchenko.

Vasil’ Tarnovsky in his study, holding the sword of Bohdan Hmelnytsky.

Ilya Repin, the famous Russian artist, depicted numerous objects from Tarnovsky’s collection in his work “The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks.” Repin actually used the collector as a model for the painting.

A close-up of the painting, “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks.” The cossack modeled on Tarnovsky is circled in red.

(A version of this painting was recently endangered during the Russian shelling of the Kharkiv Art Museum.)

Tarnovsky’s collection was housed in the building until 1925, when the lion’s share of it was moved to the Chernihiv Regional Historical Museum (now the Vasil’ Tarnovsky Chernihiv Regional Historical Museum). However, many highlights, such as the Shevchenko manuscripts, were distributed to the museums of Kyiv. In 1980, the Chernikhiv Regional Youth Library relocated to the building.

Serhiy Laevsky, the director of the Vasil’ Tarnovsky Chernihiv Regional Historical Museum, noted that the building survived both the Bolshevik shelling in 1918 -1919 and the Nazi bombardment of the city in August of 1941. The Russians proved to be more destructive than their historical predecessors.