The first and so far the only museum to the Donbas war has opened its first exhibition in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro.
The exhibition takes up three halls of a local historical museum, which is now home to the country’s first Donbas war museum. The museum’s opening exhibition, called “The Civilian Endeavor of the People of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast,” includes over 2,000 items that tell the story of the war and human lives lost.
According to United Nations estimates, at least 10,000 people have been killed in Russia’s war on Ukraine since spring 2014, including over 3,000 Ukrainian servicemen.
The first of three halls contains artifacts that belonged to people not directly involved in combat operations while serving in the armed forces – those who supported Ukrainian troops or joined volunteer battalions.
The exhibits include medical equipment from the field hospitals where medics – many from regular hospitals throughout Ukraine who volunteered to work on the front line – provided aid to the wounded. Also on display are the belongings of army chaplains, who again began to serve in the Ukrainian armed forces after Russia unleashed war in the Donbas.
The museum was located in Dnipro because the city and its surrounding Dnipropetrovsk Oblast became a core center of the volunteer movement when the war started in the spring of 2014. The first volunteer battalions, Dnipro-1 and Dnipro-2, were formed there, and their fighters were some of those who initially repelled Russia’s covert invasion. The volunteer battalions were engaged in all of the bloodiest battles of the war – for Donetsk airport, Mariupol, Debaltseve and Ilovaisk.
The exhibition also tells the story of the civilian volunteer movement in Dnipro, where activists have been providing support to the Ukrainian army since the very beginning of war, as well as helping Ukrainian war veterans and the families of those killed in actions. The exhibition includes original fundraising posters for volunteer initiatives to support the armed forces.
“The residents of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast were some of the first to unite in defending the motherland. Some of us went off to the front, some became civilian volunteers, others left their hospitals to treat wounded soldiers at the front line. This exhibition is dedicated to the endeavors of all these local residents,” Valentyn Riznychenko, the head of the oblast administration, told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
Part of the exhibition also shows the war through the eyes of military journalists at the front line. It features a series of well-known photographs that show Ukrainian soldiers both off-duty and during combat.
Another section of the exhibition includes pictures painted by children as gestures of support for the troops. It has become a new tradition for young schoolchildren to send such pictures to soldiers, who use them to decorate their dugouts and trenches.
The close relationships between civilian volunteers and Ukrainian servicemen is still an important feature of the war, so the museum in Dnipro shows exact copies of conversations between them via SMS, social networks or online messengers, with requests for food, equipment, fuel supplies, and vehicle maintenance – things that is was often impossible for the crisis-stricken state to provide during the first days of the war.
Visitors also can see numerous messages from soldiers and officers to their families, friends and relatives – some of them tragic farewell words from those fatally wounded in action.
The second hall, called “The Hall of Memory,” memorializes around 500 Ukrainian servicemen from Dnipropetrovsk Oblast who have died in the war. Visitors can see photos of the fallen, as well as their personal belongings, from books, letters and postcards, to body armor and helmets that failed to save their lives.
The third hall contains a modern-style multimedia exhibit, where two war documentaries – screened onto all four walls to create a surrounding effect for visitors – can be seen.
Other museum exhibits include various types of ammunition, weapons, equipment, and military vehicles, including destroyed equipment evacuated from the war zone. According to organizers, all of these exhibits were actually used in combat.
“In this exhibition, no one was forgotten – fighters, volunteers, medics,” Yevhen Mezhevikin, the commander of an armored battalion, told Interfax-Ukraine. “That’s the way it should be. Ukrainians should see that these were the same, ordinary people, with open hearts and kind eyes.”
The museum in Dnipro is the first one fully dedicated to the war in the Donbas. It developed from a temporary outdoor exhibition in Dnipro held in May 2016, which included numerous artifacts from the front line, including damaged military vehicles and equipment.
Starting from late January, the indoor exhibition will operate on a continual basis, and its organizers say the items on display will be replenished and replaced until the war ends.