Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian troops in Ukraine are deliberately attacking the country’s museums, libraries and other cultural institutions, according to a report released Friday by the US and Ukrainian chapters of the international writers’ organization PEN.
“Culture is not collateral damage in the war against Ukraine; This is a goal, the pillar of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rationale for war. “Putin has repeatedly claimed that Ukrainian culture and language do not exist. It tries to achieve this by targeting art museums, music halls, libraries, theaters and historical sites.”
PEN quoted the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine as saying that 529 “cultural heritage and cultural institutions” have been destroyed or damaged since the start of the war on February 24. According to the report, the figure includes both places of national importance and cultural venues in towns and villages.
The list includes one of the most notorious events of the war – the bombing of the main drama theater in the city of Mariupol in March, where hundreds of people took refuge from the siege of the city. About 600 people died in the attack, according to the Associated Press investigation.
The report said that two large inscriptions on the floor next to the theater that read “children” said Russian forces knew there were civilians inside, and were “likely to have been targeted because of the theatre’s cultural significance.”
The PEN report said that Russian soldiers also seized and destroyed Ukrainian literature and books in the Ukrainian language from public libraries in the occupied areas.
The report acknowledges that “it is not always possible to determine whether the bombing of cultural sites was intentional or the result of Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas”.
PEN said Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian culture and language predate the war and began in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and supported separatist fighters in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.
PEN Ukraine said it has documented the deaths of 31 civilian writers, artists and other cultural workers in Russian attacks this year, and that several other cultural figures died fighting Ukrainian forces.
American writer and publisher Dave Eggers, who was in the PEN delegation presenting the report, said he thought the attacks had backfired internationally.
“The irony of Putin’s attempts to erase Ukraine’s culture and heritage (is it?) has only enriched their culture and turned the world’s attention to Ukrainian writers and traditions,” Eggers said at a news conference.
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