On August 20 the Donetsk Local Lore Museum was hit by at least eight shells. As a result the roof of the building and most of the halls with exhibits on display were destroyed. Witnesses say the fire continued during the following days. But, in spite of the military actions, the Donetsk residents started to coordinate with the help of social networks to help preserve what has left from the history and culture of the city. Halyna Bronevytska, initiator of help to the Donetsk Local Lore Museum told The Day how the volunteers work under fire.
“I started to supervise the help to the museum because I have been a Donetsk resident for over 30 years. My older grandson, who is seven, knows practically every exhibit in this museum: we used to visit it with his friends every month. In several weeks my third granddaughter will be born, and I have to understand where I will bring her to learn history. As a person with an active civic stand I must leave the business, all the more so there is no possibility to run it now, and help the city, because it needs help badly.”
How does a day of a museum volunteer look like?
“We haven’t discussed with the volunteers what specifically they were going to do. But I see that everyone is resolute about restoration of the museum. At the moment our task is to remove the exhibits that can be removed, secure the immovable ones, and try to protect somehow from the rain the part of the building that has not been destroyed. After an expert evaluation we will finally understand what we can do to the building: what we should restore, what is not restorable, where we can work and where we cannot. At the moment many exhibits are simply covered with ceiling sheets, bricks, and glass. On the whole, there are still questions we haven’t been able to solve during the initial days of our work. In the future we will build a new museum. We will evoke response in the society, find sponsors, and attract people. I am sure that we will restore the museum free of charge. By the words ‘we’ I mean Donetsk residents, Ukraine, Russia, and everyone willing to participate.”
Who volunteers to help? What is their motivation?
“Immediately after we announced about this initiative on social media, my phone ‘turned red’ because of the number of the calls. Everyone is signing up: we don’t ask them about their place of work or place of residence. On the first day there was an equal number of young people, people of middle age, and older generation among the volunteers. And they have the same motivation that I have: we want to help our city. The volunteers continue to come. The speed with which the group of helping the museum is filling on social media is enormous. People also offer material help, but anonymously, not with the purpose of drawing attention of the public.”
How can one become a volunteer?
“It is very easy and simple to sign up. On Facebook we created a group ‘Help Local Lore Museum,’ where we post all the information. You should have a passport with you, because these days it is better to have a passport with you when you move about the town, gloves, protective clothing, and footwear with a firm sole. We are planning to meet every day from 8 a.m. to noon without days off.”
What are the achievements of the first days of work?
“At first we didn’t have access to the museum. It was under methodical and cynical fire for three days in a row. It was dangerous to stay there. We thought it would be relatively calm after the Minsk negotiations, and that we could start to work after them. Therefore we began our work on Tuesday, but we were wrong whenwe thought it would be calm. For example, on the first day at noon after the end of the work we had a roll call in the basement because a heavy fire started.
“On the first day I called 10 men I knew, because I understood that at first there would be lots of organizational work, therefore the time of the volunteers would come later. When after several hours of examination it became clear we didn’t need miners, the experts defined the first areas where we could or couldn’t do something, and I wrote on Facebook that the volunteers were welcome. At that moment 1.5 or 2 hours remained till the end of the work. But people came in a crowd.
“On the first day of work, except for the museum employees and volunteers, the Emergency Situations Service was working, as well as the department of the capital construction of the city council and Electric Inspection Service. We were later joined by the Donetsk Institute ‘Donetskproekt,’ which will make an expert evaluation of the building. Because there is no doubt that the building is in an emergency condition, and it is very dangerous to work with it.
“We called the second day conditionally ‘the glass day,’ because we were able to clean the building practically of all broken windows and glass fragments. In the paleontology hall, where there was a mammoth on display, the ceiling fell down. Now the mammoth is holding it like Atlas. It is dangerous to work there, but we took the risk. Several guys with maximum equipment, including hard hats, took out everything very carefully. All of us were securing them during the work in this hall. On the whole, we were working productively. And the museum employees even made a bonfire and boiled on it a pot of tea to treat everyone. The only thing we are worried about is that everything we are doing now won’t last for long, because a shell can hit the place any time.”
Do the administration and employees of the museum cooperate with you?
“We have a wonderful cooperation with the administration of the museum. The employees of the museum are for the most part elderly people over 50. Surprisingly, unlike in a commercial structure, these people, 90 percent of the staff, are on their working places. We are working side by side; volunteers come under command of the museum employees, because they are the masters of the place. We have a wonderful communication.”
Do the local authorities and communal services participate in the initiative?
“We have good relations with the local authorities. Represented by deputy head of the city council Kostiantyn Savynov, the authorities are giving us a help on our demand. For example, he sends operatively experts to evaluate the damage and potential risks. The city authorities give us everything that is in their competence and is not involved on the rest of the objects. The communal services, however, do not take part in the work, because they have no time: there is more urgent business for them every day in the city, such as destroyed blocks of flats and communications that are important for the life of the city. That is the only reason, it is not because they don’t want to help us.”
What will happen to the exhibits that will be preserved?
“Part of them has been brought to a safe place. For the first time the museum employees were working on their evacuation, and we joined them later with this initiative. In the future they will be on display in a new museum.”
Probably, the question will arise on restoration of the cultural heritage (restoration, replenishment). Have you tried to get in touch with other museums of Ukraine with the purpose of getting this help?
“People from Kyiv, Simferopol, Moscow, and even from Germany, have gotten in touch with me because they want to help our museum. Our volunteers are also making the list of the most interesting museums of the world, to show what should serve a model for us as we restore the museum on Donetsk. And there will be a natural replenishment, because even the fragments we now find during the work or the roof that looks like a sieve will replenish the fund. This is our history that is being written every day, every minute, under fire.”
Will your activity be limited only to the work in the Local Lore Museum? Do you have any plans to help the rest culture institutions of the city that haven’t been destroyed yet?
“I haven’t thought about this. We have a catastrophic situation here, that’s why we are here. For example, I used to organize help for babies. My business partners from all over Ukraine sent me diapers, and I gave them to mothers of little children in Donetsk. I think in the future we will focus on places where urgent help is needed.”
How do people feel the need to take care of the destroyed museum in such a difficult time? Or do they care more of their own personal life and security rather than about culture and history?
“There is a complicated situation in the city, therefore you need to show your registration to enter and leave the museum. The discussion of politics is forbidden on the site. The volunteers care the least about their personal lives and even their safety. It is because our heart was damaged. The Museum was to celebrate its 90th anniversary in December this year.
“This activity became a distraction for people. They can distract themselves from TV, the stream of lies on all channels. Besides, when people are working, they stop listening to explosions. And the spirit of participation in creation of history is very helpful. Maybe people do not realize this, but they want to contribute to the history of their native city. Nobody forces or asks anyone, everyone is full of respect to one another, total self-organization is reigning here.”