Last week, the world was shocked and horrified by images of crimes perpetrated by the Russian army in towns and villages near the Ukrainian capital. These outrages were not limited to the hamlet of Bucha. The 400 inhabitants of Lukashovka, a tiny village near Chernihiv, didn’t escape the brutality of the Russian “liberators;” neither did the village’s sole architectural landmark: the Сhurch of the Ascension, built in 1913 in the Neo-Byzantine style.
Even before the events of recent days, the church’s history was tumultuous. Revolution swept the country not long after it was built. For decades, the church was used for storage. It wasn’t returned to the Orthodox community until 1988. The church was restored after Ukraine gained independence and included in the national list of cultural heritage sites.
Many of the architectural monuments that have been featured in these blog posts were damaged or destroyed by Russian bombs or artillery. The case of Lukashovka was different. The Russians who occupied the village chose the church for their headquarters. They not only robbed and damaged the building, but also decided to burn it before their retreat.
It seems they also used the Church of Ascension and its grounds for executions. Investigators have now undertaken the grim task of identifying and collecting the bodies of villagers strewn about the ruins. One looks at the photographic evidence of these war crimes and remembers the shrill voices of Vladimir Putin’s ideologues.
So much for the idea of Russia as a “defender of Christian values.”
The situation in Izyum, a city near Kharkiv, has become exceptionally grave. The town is under constant Russian bombardment. The fate of Izyum’s Cathedral of the Transfiguration, built in the Baroque Style, is not yet known.
Practically the only visual evidence to date is a MAXAR satellite photograph published on March 25th, which shows a crater from an explosion just a stone’s throw from the cathedral.
The Cathedral of the Transfiguration, built in 1684 in the style of the Ukrainian Baroque (also known as the Cossack Baroque), has survived many perilous moments in Ukraine’s history.
During the 1930s, the cathedral was closed and used for storage. The exquisite wooden Baroque iconostasis seen in the photograph below was either demolished or lost.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the retreating Red Army blew up the cathedral’s bell tower, which caused other damage to the structure. The cathedral was restored between 1953-1955, with the exception of the the ruined bell tower.
After his victory at the Battle of Poltava on July 8th, 1709, Peter the Great gave the cathedral a Gospel in a silver casing. But the most revered relic still housed in the cathedral is the wonderworking icon of the Peschanska Holy Virgin, which dates to 1754.
Now, as the cathedral’s fate hangs in the balance, we can only hope that the people of Izyum still have a wonderworking icon to pray to.
Also unknown is the fate of the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, designed in the Neoclassical Style by architect Piotr Yaroslavsky (1750-1810) and built in 1821.
The church is situated on a bank of the Donets River. Disciples of Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926), the famous Russian artist, created the wall paintings. According to local legend, Vasnetsov himself painted the image of the Angel Gabriel.
The city of Izyum is home to an interesting local museum. During the Second World War, the Nazis looted its collection and destroyed the building. However, a few valuable objects survived the German occupation. They include the silver Gospel that Peter the Great donated to Izyum’s Cathedral of the Transfiguration.
Among other highlights are papers and heirlooms of Baron Andrei von Rosen (1799-1884), a participant of the Decembrist Revolt in Saint Petersburg; as well as rich numismatic and ethnographic collections.
Among the most ancient art treasures near Izyum — and perhaps in all of Ukraine — are a collection of “kurgan stelae,” Bronze Age statues that are displayed in the open air. These six-thousand-year-old figures, known locally as the “stone women,” stand on the summit of Mount Kremyanets overlooking the Russian positions, their empty faces seemingly frozen in disbelief.