The Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum is racing to protect the country’s largest art collection while the Russian invasion advances west towards Lviv.

The Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum is the largest art museum in Ukraine, a castle-like columned beauty that overlooks historic Lviv (pronounced le-VEEV). In the far west of the country, close to the Polish border, Lviv hopes to be safe from the advancing Russian invasion. In fact, the city has become the de facto capital as government offices are relocated from Kviv for their safety.

The National Museum closed its doors on February 24th, the day Russia’s war began, to begin the race to protect its contents. The tens of thousands of works are being taken down from the walls, moved into metal boxes and basements. The galleries and corridors are emptying, leaving just hooks and wire on walls that withstood two world wars.

“Sometimes the tears are coming because a lot of labor has been put in here. It takes time, energy. You are doing something good, you feel pleased. Today you see empty walls, so it feels bitter, sad. We didn’t believe it till the last minute that this could happen,” museum General Director Ihor Kozhan said Friday.

The curators, staff, and volunteers don’t entirely know where to put the artworks and artifacts. Anna Naurobska, head of the rare manuscripts and books department, is overseeing her department’s collection of over 12000 items being packed into whatever boxes can be found, but doesn’t know where to safely send them. Ancient paper is particularly vulnerable to changes of environment and vibration, ruling out a number of options that would work fine for canvases and sculptures.

“This is our story; this is our life. It is very important to us,” Naurobska said, tears in her eyes.

“Museum has to live. People have to be there, and first of all children. They have to learn the basics of their culture,” said Kozhan, staring at the empty walls. Help is being offered by other cultural institutions all over Europe. The museum will live.

Photo: Ruslan Lytvyn / Shutterstock