In one room of the National Museum of Lviv, an enormous scaffold is bare. In another, brackets hang loosely from the walls. Plinths sit empty along the corridors and wooden pallets and cardboard boxes are strewn on the floors. The staff used whatever they could to pack away the museum’s priceless artefacts in a hurry.
As Russian shelling has devastated other parts of Ukraine, the picturesque western city of Lviv has been left untouched, so far. But it is bracing for war. Some preparations you can see in the open – the checkpoints on main roads and the soldiers on the streets – but some are taking place behind closed doors.
In Lviv’s galleries, museums and churches, a huge operation is under way to safeguard the city’s cultural heritage. Thousands of artworks and artefacts have been carefully removed and taken to secret underground locations, or down to basement storage rooms.
The climate-controlled cabinets in Lviv’s national museum now sit empty, their treasures hidden underground.,
The climate-controlled cabinets in Lviv’s national museum now sit empty, their treasures hidden underground
Ihor Kozhan, the director of the National Museum of Lviv – the largest art museum in Ukraine – took the BBC on a tour of its now empty rooms, which looked as though they had been looted. Climate-controlled display cases, usually home to artworks, icons and manuscripts dating as far back as the 14th Century, were bare.
Nearly every one of the 1,500 artefacts on display has now been removed from the museum. The other 97% of the collection – 180,000 pieces in total – was already in storage in some form.
“Everything, everything is gone,” Kozhan said.