In a museum exhibition, Ukraine tells the story of a war still in progress

The exhibition is one of several ways that Ukraine's government is highlighting the devastation its people have endured. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Boots left behind by Russian soldiers, arranged in the outline of a red star, in the “Crucified Ukraine” show. PHOTO: NYTIMES

KYIV (NYTIMES) - Just days after Russian troops retreated from the suburbs surrounding Kyiv, Mr Yuriy Savchuk, director of a World War II museum in the city, joined the police and prosecutors who were investigating the full extent of the suffering inflicted there by enemy soldiers.

Over the next month, Mr Savchuk and his colleagues meticulously documented what they saw, taking more than 3,000 photographs. And they came away with some of the abandoned traces of the Russian invasion: the diary of a commander; a book that Russian troops had carried, called "No One Judges the Winners"; a parachute soldier's map showing targets on Kyiv's left bank; and the ATM cards and passports of dead Russian fighters.

Those discoveries and many others have become items in an exhibition called "Crucified Ukraine" that opened on May 8 at Mr Savchuk's museum, an unusual effort to chronicle the war even as battles continue to rage in Ukraine's east and south. A new museum dedicated solely to the Russian invasion is foreseen once the conflict ends, Mr Savchuk added.

The exhibition is one of several ways that Ukraine's government is highlighting the devastation its people have endured even as new suffering is inflicted every day.

Prominent in those efforts are the vivid presentations that the country's president, Mr Volodymyr Zelensky, has made to other nations' leaders, and his nightly addresses to his compatriots.

Ukrainian government officials, soldiers and thousands of civilians have also flooded social media - Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and other sites - with photographs, videos and written accounts of the hardships wrought by Russia's invasion.

Outside the museum hall recently, the children of Mr Sasha Spodinskiy, an electrical engineer who recently returned to Kyiv with his family after fleeing to western Ukraine, played among the charred remains of a Russian helicopter propeller.

"It is necessary to explain to our children what is happening in Ukraine now," Mr Spodinskiy said, as other visitors took photographs of the debris.

"We cannot speak with our children as if nothing is happening because they clearly understand everything, and they see what happens in our country."

Conducting a tour of the exhibits recently, Mr Savchuk led a reporter and photographer through an area he called the "food court", which displays the rations that Russian soldiers were given: MREs, or premade meals, labelled with "No One But Us" and "Friendship of Nations"; along with old jars of borscht and shchi, a Russian cabbage soup. Nearby, boots left behind by Russian soldiers are shaped inside a red star evoking the Soviet past.

Above the food court, a TV screen plays images of Russian propaganda released in the prelude to the war, including a clip from the speech in which Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine had been "entirely and fully created by Russia".

As Mr Savchuk climbed the stairs to the second floor, he pointed to a metal gate that had been sprayed with bullets. It belonged to a wooden church from a town on the outskirts of Kyiv called Peremoha, which means "victory" in Ukrainian.

In the centre of the room hangs a cross salvaged from another church that had been destroyed. Under it is displayed an icon of Jesus being taken off the cross. The glass covering of the painting has been pierced by shrapnel over the face of Joseph.

"The history of our country is being created, and now this is an opportunity to get in touch with it," said another visitor, Mr Serhiy Pashchukov, 31, of Luhansk, which was occupied by Russia in 2014.

A woman stands by a recreation of a shelter used by local residents during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, at an exhibition in Kyiv. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Pashchukov, who moved to Kyiv in 2014 when Russian-backed separatists took his hometown, said that seeing the objects in person was "completely different from seeing it on a TV screen or on the Internet".

In each room of the exhibition, a sign points to the "ukrittya, or "bomb shelter", a ubiquitous sign in wartime Ukraine. Although the shelter, in the basement of the museum, could probably protect visitors if necessary - the wails of air raid sirens are still common in Kyiv - it is also among the most poignant exhibits in the museum.

A handwritten sign on paper torn from a school pupil's exercise book is taped to the door. In Ukrainian, Russian and English, it advises that only civilians are inside.

The tail from a Russian helicopter and other destroyed military equipment in the “Crucified Ukraine” show. PHOTO: NYTIMES

The sign, and everything else in the basement, was taken from a bomb shelter in a Kyiv suburb, Hostomel, the site of an airport that Russian soldiers tried to take in the first days of the war.

Mr Savchuk and his team have painstakingly reproduced the three rooms and adjacent corridors, including the graffiti on the walls, in which 120 people spent 37 days underground.

The rooms are dank and cold, but the most striking thing, many visitors said, was that it smells as if the people who sheltered with their belongings there - including onions, blankets, and toys - had just left.

Mr Savchuk has been sleeping in the World War II history museum, to protect its collection from vandals. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Since the first day of the war, Mr Savchuk has been sleeping in the World War II history museum, to protect its collection from vandals.

Remembrance of World War II has become more complex since the war started.

In Russia, the Kremlin has sought to glorify the Soviet victory - to which millions of Ukrainians contributed - as a source of national pride. But it has also called upon memories of that war to justify and build support for the invasion of Ukraine, with Mr Putin seeking to falsely portray Ukrainian leaders as "Nazis".

Mr Savchuk said that in the light of the current war, people were talking about a "complete reconstruction" of the museum complex, whose architecture is intended to awe visitors with the memory of the Soviet victory in World War II, to de-emphasise the fight against Nazi Germany.

"This war changed everything," he said. "A museum is not only an exhibition, it is a territory, it is its monuments, it is a place of memory. We are thinking about changing not only the ideology but also the architecture, the emphasis."

Mr Savchuk is continuing to collect artifacts. It will eventually become a "big war museum," he said - a museum of victory.

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