The City of Kherson is now under Russian occupation. Despite a prohibition against demonstrations, its citizens are bravely protesting the rule of the uninvited “liberators.” According to an analysis by Ukrainian intelligence, Russia’s plans for the city are relatively straightfoward: Moscow has dusted off the playbook from 2014 and decided to establish the next “People’s Republic,” a la Donetsk and Luhansk. Whether this will work in Kherson remains to be seen.
The case of Donetsk is illustrative. Eight years ago, the Donetsk Regional Art Museum was spared destruction by mere chance. Its collection of Russian and Ukrainian art and European masters survived the war in the East by a miracle of courage. Galina Chumak, the museum’s director, stayed in the occupied territory for nearly a year in order to secure the collection. The museum itself lost 21 windows as a result of a massive explosion nearby. When she’d done as much as she could do, Ms. Chumak crossed the border and returned to unoccupied Ukraine. Soon after, the rulers of the so-called “Donetsk Republic” renamed the museum: it is now the Republican Art Museum.
But back to Kherson. We don’t currently know the fate of the Oleksandr Shovkunenko Kherson Regional Art Museum, which has around 10,000 pieces in its collection, including a small selection of old masters. Among its Russian masterworks are three canvases by Ivan Aivazovsky (1817 – 1900), the famous seascape painter. Its Ukrainian treasures include “Fairy tale,” a masterpiece by the Secession painter Mykhailo Zhuk. Let’s all hope the collection is surviving its “liberation.”
Alas, the city is now being run by Russian collaborators. If Mr. Putin has his way and manages to establish a new puppet state, there will be changes afoot for the Kherson Regional Art Museum. A renaming may be unavoidable. The proud word “republican” may soon hang over the museum’s entrance.