HAMTRAMK, MICHIGAN – From ritual fabrics to 18th century wooden paintings, carefully collected and preserved artifacts help to tell the story of the nation and its people.
“There is a sense of preservation and protection within the Ukrainian community and the Ukrainian nation,” said Olga Liskivsky. executive director of the Ukrainian-American Archives and Museum. “We have a deeper appreciation of what it means to be Ukrainian.”
Inside the museum, near Detroit, Liskowski understands that there is something on a personal level.
“My parents came after World War II, and they all went through a lot of hardships when they got to the United States,” she said. “They lived through war-torn Ukraine between the Soviets and the Nazis.”
In another century, another war is threatening the life and cultural institutions of Ukraine – a symbol of what it means to be Ukrainian.
“Aren’t you the same as the Russians, or the Poles, or what?” Liskiwski recalled being asked. “And you have to go through all this elevator talk about what a Ukrainian is.”
This is no longer the case.
Coordinated efforts are now being made here and in other U.S. museums to help protect Ukrainian cultural art and artifacts.
“There have been so many serious conflicts lately where museums have been harder to help, and that’s why I almost think there has been a bit of a restrained reaction with Ukraine,” said Brian Daniels, director of research and programs. Penn Cultural Heritage Center on Penn Museum in Philadelphia.
Daniels, a wartime culture expert, said museums are advising Ukrainian counterparts on how best to protect cultural property from destruction.
“It ranges from stacking sandbags on statues to being able to move at-risk collections to safer places inside Ukraine,” he said.
Here in the US, this also includes assistance in digitizing and storing Ukrainian collections on computer servers outside the country, so the record remains when the worst happens to a real physical artifact.
“If the perpetrator really intends to harm civilians, as we see in this conflict, preserving culture becomes an act of truly radical resistance in an attempt to preserve one’s cultural memory,” Daniels said.
Returning to the Ukrainian American Archives and Museum, this cultural memory does not fade.
A special exhibition at the Treasures of Our Motherland Museum opened before the war. It was planned to be completed in January, but when the war broke out, they decided to extend the exhibition until the end of the year.
“To bet that we are Ukrainians,” said Liskivsky, “and we are different.”