The Maidan Museum preserves personal items whose owners in Ukraine were forced to leave them behind. (all photos by Bohdan Poshyvailo; courtesy the Maidan Museum Archive)

For eight years, the Maidan Museum in Kyiv has been exhibiting objects that tell personal stories of war and revolution. In the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the museum is continuing to add objects to its collection — stuffed animals, books, children’s clothing, and other objects left behind by their Ukrainian owners.

“These objects can become small exhibitions that tell the story of those ordinary people’s lives, of their deaths,” curator Ihor Poshyvailo told the Guardian. “They can demonstrate the cruelty but also explain why Ukrainians are fighting so fiercely for their freedom.”

Maidan Museum Curator Ihor Poshyvailo leaves a destroyed apartment building with items that survived the shelling.
A painting found in the rubble of an apartment building

The museum was opened during the 2014 Maidan Revolution, which ousted pro-Putin President Viktor Yanukovych and furthered Ukraine’s fight to be governed, and seen, as a nation independent from Russian influence. Workers at the Maidan Museum documented oral stories and collected photographs, protest flags, and leaflets as well as personal objects like protesters’ clothing. In 2018, the museum was ultimately recognized and supported by Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture, and it now has over 4,000 objects in its collection.

The museum has focused on personal objects rather than military artifacts.

Since the Russian invasion, the Maidan Museum has moved its holdings to a secret location. Safeguarding a museum collection, however, has proven dangerous — earlier this month, two workers were reportedly abducted after refusing to disclose the location of the Melitopol Museum of Local History’s collection. Ukrainian officials said that Russian troops stole works from the Melitopol Museum, including a collection of Scythian gold artifacts.

But even though the Maidan Museum has been forced to hide its collection, it is still adding to it, even as the war rages around its workers. Poshyvailo told the Guardian that in the city of Bucha, which has become notorious for Russian war crimes, his team searched for objects in places where bodies still lay.

After a church was destroyed by Russian troops, workers at the Maidan Museum went through the ruins to salvage objects.
In the ruins of the church, the Maidan Museum finds objects to add to its collection.
A painting found inside the church

In another museum in Kyiv, a different side of the war is being preserved. The National Military History Museum has focused on symbols of Ukrainian military success and Russian military loss. In a current exhibition, the museum is displaying a destroyed Russian tank and plane, unused Russian shells, fragments of military uniforms, and a Russian soldier’s journal, in which he had drawn portraits of his fellow soldiers.

At the Museum of the Second World War in Kyiv, an exhibition called Ukraine – Crucifixion shows destroyed Russian military equipment and objects left behind by Russian troops. In one display, the boots of Russian soldiers are formed into the shape of a star. In another, untouched Russian military rations are displayed in front of a screen playing a propagandistic speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Dmitri Hainetdinov, head of the museum’s education department, told the Guardian that the museum is preserving the horrors of the war for those who were able to flee and did not see it firsthand.

As of May 23, Ukraine has suffered an estimated 8,462 civilian casualties, and 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Six million have escaped to other countries, and 8 million remain away from home but trapped inside Ukraine.

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.