Kharkov History Museum: From Russian Tsars to Militants of the “ATO”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The other day in the Sumtsov Kharkov historical museum the exhibition “The Strength of the Unconquered” devoted to the punitive operation in the East of Ukraine was opened. It was opened in the stairwell of the third floor before the entrance to the main exhibition. It is promised to be made mobile and to be driven around the districts of the region.

“The following topics are presented in the exhibition: the aggression of Russia in Crimea and in the East of Ukraine; volunteers for the defence of the Motherland; Kharkov is the capital of the volunteer movement; the Ilovaisk tragedy; battles for Debaltsevo; battles for the Donetsk and Lugansk airports; the 92nd separate mechanised brigade; IDPs from the East of Ukraine and Crimea; military personnel — natives of the Kharkov region who died during conducting the ATO (as of October 30th, 2017) are faithful to the oath to their last breath; the modernisation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine; the memory of heroes of the ATO,” it is said on the website of the Regional State Administration.

And indeed, it consists of several stands that can be transported easily from place to place in a case practically by car. And practically all signature stamps of Ukrainian agitprop were concluded in this design — volunteer battalions are glorified, there are shrill intonations about “aggression”, many photos and even more text.

To the right of the stairwell there is the whole hall of the permanent museum exhibition devoted to the same thing, only stands and posters are interspersed with showcases, where there are original chevrons and badges of the Nazi-behaving public, and also scrap metal that experienced battles. And if the exhibition is free for visitors, then the entrance to the hall costs 6 hryvnia, and photography in it (like in any other museum) is 80 hryvnia, and this is the cost of viewing only one thematic exhibition, and not the entire museum.

The hall is filled on the basis of the exhibitions that were held here earlier. During the first one, which opened on June 6th, 2015, punitive volunteers were especially distinguished. Here is what the same website of the Regional State Administration reported back then: “The focal point is precisely the military compatriots who are now at the front line. Among them are graduates of the history department of the V.N. Karazin National University of Kharkov who became fighters of the ‘Azov’ voluntary regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine — the commander of the regiment Andrey Biletsky, his deputies Oleg Odnorozhenko and Vadim Troyan — a graduate of the Kharkov National University of Internal Affairs, note the organisers.

The purpose of the exhibition is to honor the memory of the perished fighters of the ‘Donbass’ battalion of the National Guard — Eduard Ushakov, Kadyr Magomedov, and dozens more heroe compatriots from the different units that were involved in the ATO”. This is not in the hall now, but there are enough posters with “proof of Russian aggression”.

The history museum in Kharkov has an unenviable fate. It was founded as an ethnographic museum by professor Sumtsov under the last Tsar, then Bolsheviks brought their ideology there, and it’s been that way ever since, although exhibitions have moved several times. During the Great Patriotic War most of the exhibition perished together with the building. Then the collections gathered almost anew were placed in the buildings of the Bishop’s house and Girard’s Factory. With the return to life of the Pokrovsky monastery, the museum was forced to move to the building opposite — the former city pawnshop, where is still here.

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However, during the move there were noticeable losses in the exhibition: busts of emperors Peter the Great and Pavel, Ekaterina’s decree on establishing a guberniya, and a shako of the grand duke Mikhail Pavlovich were removed to store rooms. The war of 1812 practically isn’t presented in any way. The diorama “Kharkov in the 17th century” created under Khrushchev was corrected so that the Russian Streltsy disappeared from the canvas, and only natives from Malorossiya were left on it. In this exhibition there is also a portrait of the Tsar “B. Godunov”, but there is no list of Kharkov Colonels. Instead of this, for some reason the portraits of hetmens who had no relation to our country hang there. It is good that at least the portraits of the founder of the city Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich and the first governor Evdokim Shcherbinin have remained by a miracle!

And, of course, the Ukrainian topic insistently creeps out everywhere, except stands with archeological finds. But history is history. And no matter how much you try to heavily retouch it, even there the past of the big Russian city is visible from under the layers.

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