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Empty Kherson art museum in despair after entire collection stolen by Russia

Nov 30, 2022 | News, Ukraine, Featured

Alina Dotsenko, director of the Kherson Fine Arts Museum, in front of empty shelves in the museum's storage rooms after they were looted by Russia in early November, photographed on Nov. 16, 2022. (Francis Farrell/The Kyiv Independent)

By Francis Farrell,

Housed in a grand imperial building with a view out onto the Dnipro River, the Kherson Fine Arts Museum once hosted one of the richest collections in all of Ukraine.

As with the rest of Kherson, which had its electricity infrastructure destroyed by withdrawing Russian forces in early November, the halls of the museum are now cold and dark.

Far more tragically, the Kherson Fine Arts Museum has been emptied of all its works by Russian officials. Of the over 14,000 works in its collection, barely anything remains. Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson was a well-planned operation, a key component of which was the looting of anything deemed to be of financial or cultural value. The Russian campaign of theft was comprehensive and wide ranging, covering everything from hospital equipment and public monuments to an unfortunate raccoon living in Kherson Zoo.

Stolen equipment and monuments can be replaced, but priceless artworks cannot. All that remains now of the once flourishing museum is the building itself, and inside it, the two last staff members who refused to collaborate with Russia.

Speaking to the Kyiv Independent on Nov. 16 in her personal office at the museum, director Alina Dotsenko, 72, steered clear of her old work desk, shuffling closer to the window where the last dim light of the day was making its way in.

“I still can’t bring myself to sit where they sat,” she said, referring to her Russian-installed replacement, a local singer called Natalia Desiatova, who oversaw the looting of the museum’s collection.

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