Russian airstrikes wounded at least eight people in Odesa last night, November 5, and damaged the city’s Fine Arts Museum. The institution reported that no one inside the building was injured and no artworks were affected, but photos show shattered windows, cracked walls, debris-littered floors, and a canvas lying among the rubble. The museum has postponed all upcoming programming and is now closed.
The 19th-century building is located in Odesa’s city center. UNESCO named the historic area a World Heritage Site in January “in the face of destruction” and announced today on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that it “strongly condemns” last night’s attack, noting on Facebook that the strike occurred on its 124th birthday. Odesa is among Ukraine’s largest grain export hubs, and last night’s attack was directed at the city’s port infrastructure, according to a Telegram post by the head of Odesa’s regional military administration, Oleh Kiper.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Odesa Fine Arts Museum housed over 100,000 artworks. Kiper said the majority of its collection was moved to secure locations with the help of the nonprofit Museum for Change, an organization founded in 2017 to help art institutions in the city. At the time of the airstrike, the museum was displaying an exhibition of 20th-century works by Ukrainian modernist painters Margarite and Roman Selski as well as smaller shows comprising contemporary artists’ reflections on the war. It’s not the first time Russia has damaged or destroyed cultural institutions in the city. This summer, Russian missiles hit Odesa’s towering Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral as well as several buildings considered significant to Ukrainian architectural heritage.
The UN reports that Russia has damaged 327 Ukrainian cultural sites — 125 religious locations and 28 museums — since its invasion; 49 of those sites have been in Odesa. Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture puts that number over twice as high, reporting that 835 cultural heritage sites have been damaged, 77 of which are in Odesa. Some Ukrainian museums have reported that Russian forces have looted their collections, and in the face of ongoing attacks, cultural institutions across the country have opted to send their works to protected locations outside Ukraine.