Odessa under more rocket attacks

People remove the statue of Ukrainian philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda from the destroyed Hryhoriy Skovoroda Literary Memorial Museum in Skovorodynivka, Ukraine, May 7. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Last Friday, the historic home of Ukraine’s esteemed poet and philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda, along with a museum of his work, was destroyed by a Russian artillery attack.

Skovoroda’s home was in a tiny village not far from Kharkiv – far from obvious military targets like a railway or an ammunition depot. The attack appears to have been a deliberate act of cultural vandalism and not the first since the Russian invasion began in February.

Skovoroda was a leading figure in Ukraine’s cultural renaissance in the 18th century; this year marks the 300th anniversary of his birth.

In a video address on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the attack on the home of a man “who taught people what a true Christian way of life is and how to recognize oneself”.

“This seems to be a terrible danger for modern Russia: museums, the Christian attitude to life and the self-knowledge of the people,” said Zelenskyj.

Burnt books and other objects can be seen at the Hryhoriy Skovoroda Literary Memorial Museum on May 7th.
Burnt books and other items are seen on May 7 at the Hryhoriy Skovoroda Literary Memorial Museum. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Zelensky reiterated the theme on Victory Day, quoting Skovoroda’s words in another public message Monday: “There is nothing more dangerous than an insidious enemy, but there is nothing more poisonous than a fake friend.”

Skovoroda’s legacy has become a symbol of what Zelensky and other Ukrainians call the struggle between two worldviews – individual freedom and democracy against a new prejudice-driven authoritarianism.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synyehubov said in a post on Telegram: “The occupiers can destroy the museum where Hryhoriy Skovoroda worked the last years of his life and where he was buried. But they will not destroy our memory and values! “

While many volunteers and workers in Ukraine’s cultural sector were protecting institutions and monuments across the country early in the war, churches, museums, statues and art collections were damaged.

Zelenskyy said in his Saturday address that Russian forces had destroyed nearly 200 cultural heritage sites since the invasion began.

Whether most of them were intentionally targeted is debatable, but given Vladimir Putin’s disparaging view of Ukrainian culture, it would hardly be surprising.

Certainly there has been cultural hooliganism in the Russian-occupied areas. A statue of another prominent Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, in the town of Borodianka outside Kyiv was shot at several times and badly damaged. The city was occupied by Russian and Chechen troops for weeks.

Shevchenko’s poem “The Dream,” which satirized Russia’s oppression of Ukraine, was considered subversive and led to his being banished from Ukraine by Tsar Nicholas I in 1847, “under the strictest surveillance, with no freedom to write or paint.” as Nicholas requested.

Bullet holes are all over a bust of Taras Shevchenko in Borodianka, Ukraine, on April 6.
Bullet holes are seen all over a bust of Taras Shevchenko in Borodianka, Ukraine on April 6. (Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Shevchenko is widely regarded as the founder of modern Ukrainian written language. His view would have been at odds with Vladimir Putin’s view – as he put it in February – that “modern Ukraine was created entirely by Russia, or more precisely by Bolshevik, communist Russia”.

Not far from Borodianka there is a museum with two dozen works by the late Ukrainian people’s artist Maria Prymachenko was hit and burned down in March. The extent of the damage to her artworks remains unclear, as a Maria Prymachenko Family Foundation representative claims the works were saved. Prymachenko’s vibrant paintings were admired by Pablo Picasso, who once described them as “an artistic marvel” after attending an exhibition of her work in Paris in 1936.

A number of Ukrainian churches were also destroyed – many of them far from military targets. Just outside Kyiv, an 18th-century wooden church was destroyed in Lukyanivka — one of many properties in the area that were razed to the ground when Russian forces withdrew from the Kyiv area in April.

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CNN’s Olga Voitovych and Kostan Nechyporenko contributed to this report.

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