Russia is using our abandonment of Ukraine to commit cultural genocide

March 12th, 2024 by Tom Lynch

On 24 February 2022, the day that began Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian armored vehicles and soldiers crossed over the southern border from Crimea, the region captured in another invasion eight years earlier. The new invasion force rolled into Henichesk, a sleepy settlement of some 20,000 souls in southern Ukraine.

When they arrived, the Russian invaders encountered not the cheering, open-armed, welcoming people they’d been promised. Instead, they saw Ukrainians who in addition to being unimpressed with the arrival of their “liberators,” were also  downright hostile, although hostile only in a verbal sense, as most of the townspeople were on the other side of 60.

On that day, one older woman, looking every bit the mild-mannered grandmother, asked an enemy soldier, in an exchange filmed on a phone, “What the fuck are you doing here? You’re occupiers! You’re fascists! You came to my land uninvited.” She then tried to hand him a packet of seeds. “These are sunflowers seeds. You should put them in your pockets so that they will grow on Ukrainian land after you die. From this moment you are cursed!”

Two months later, the occupiers introduced a familiar figure to the townspeople. Dressed in a three-piece suit, and sporting his familiar goatee and moustache, Vladimir Lenin stood tall on his new pedestal. The Russians had erected his statue outside the town’s main council building. They flew Russian and Soviet flags from the roof. Just in time for Lenin’s 152nd birthday.

Well, things have gone steadily downhill from there in Ukraine.

As we find ourselves in the third year of this war, Ukrainians continue to do their best to expel Putin’s invaders, all with ever dwindling ammunition and weapons, thanks to Republicans in our Congress. Although probably quite the understatement, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reports that, thus far, the nation has seen more than 31,000 of its soldiers killed in the conflict, as well as nearly 11,000 innocent civilians. It also claims its forces have killed more than 414,000 Russian soldiers since the start of the war, Putin’s cannon fodder. More than likely, these figures are inaccurate on both ends. I write  from the experience of dealing with “body counts” during the Vietnam War.¹

Humanity isn’t all the Russians have destroyed in Ukraine. Russian missiles and drones (many of them Iranian), as well as airplanes, have wiped out vast swaths of Ukraine’s infrastructure, which, as I and others have written, will require a Marshall-like Plan to rebuild.

However, there is one thing that’s gone unnoticed until now, and it is reminiscent of German actions during World War II — Russia’s looting of museums and destruction of its churches.

James Brooke, writing for the Berkshire Eagle,² reports this is occurring on a mammoth scale. In response, Ukraine has assembled its own team of Monuments Men working to catalog and repatriate stolen art. This new unit of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force is also gathering evidence to prosecute Russian military looters and vandals, if they can ever find them.

As Brooke writes:

It will be a big job. In the biggest cultural destruction Europe has seen since 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s latest tally pegs the two-year toll at damage to 343 sites — 127 churches, 151 historic buildings, 31 museums, 19 monuments, 14 libraries and one archive. Ukraine’s Culture Ministry says 1,189 cultural objects have been damaged or destroyed.

Brooke believes there is more going on here than stealing valuable art and busting up churches. He reports that Kyiv’s Maidan Museum Director Ihor Poshyvailo said recently in a Zoom call with American historians, “This is also the heritage war. It’s a war against our memory, historical memory. Against our identity. Against our culture. And, of course, against our future.”

Mystetskyi Arsenal cultural center director Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta added, “This Russian war in Ukraine is very tightly connected to culture. The basic assumption which lies beneath this assault is that Ukraine should not exist as a separate phenomenon with its own political agency. Any Ukrainian otherness from Russia should be erased. It is genocidal in its attempt and in its action … culture is in the very core of this war.”

During three years of horror in Ukraine, we have seen the deliberate bombing of Ukrainian hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings; corpses strewn in streets and stuffed into mass graves in Bucha; the veiled threat to resort to nuclear war if the West keeps supporting Ukraine; the Hermann Göring-like theft³ of the country’s magnificent cultural treasures. After seeing all that, how can we casually walk away?

But that is what we appear to be doing. That is what the world sees.

Congressional Republicans, falling all over themselves to do whatever Donald Trump demands, no matter how unpatriotic, are helping Putin and his Russian thugs to defeat Ukraine.

They are also helping to destroy its soul.


¹ I was once ordered by my Commanding Officer to get into a Light Observational Helicopter to go look for what someone in another chopper had reported “might” be the body of a North Vietnamese soldier. That “body” turned out to be a big tree branch; that’s how desperate we were to add to the body count.

² The Berkshire Eagle is a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

³ Smithsonian reports Nazi military leader Hermann Göring amassed his own personal collection of art stolen from museums and private homes. His collection totaled more than 1,000 items, valued at $200 million in 1945, most of it stolen from France. The art was hidden at various locations in Berchtesgaden, Germany, in the Bavarian Alps until discovered by the Monuments Men. The recovered artwork was then collected at Unterstein before transport to the Central Collecting Points at Munich and Wiesbaden.