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Writers: Russian attacks seek to “erase” Ukrainian culture

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russian troops in Ukraine are deliberately attacking the country’s museums, libraries and other cultural institutions, according to a report released Friday by the American and Ukrainian chapters of the international writers’ organization PEN.

“Culture is not collateral damage in the war against Ukraine; it is a target, a central pillar of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justification for war,” the report said. “Putin has repeatedly claimed that Ukrainian culture and language simply do not exist. By targeting art museums, music halls, libraries, theaters and historic sites, it attempts to do just that.

According to PEN, Ukraine’s Culture Ministry said 529 “cultural heritage and cultural institutions” have been destroyed or damaged since the war began on February 24. This figure includes both nationally significant sites and cultural venues in cities and towns, according to the report. .

The list includes one of the most notorious incidents of the war – the March bombing of the main drama theater in the city of Mariupol, where hundreds of people were sheltering from the siege of the city. Some 600 people died in the attack, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Two large inscriptions reading “children” on the floor adjacent to the theater indicated that Russian forces were aware of civilians inside and “it seems likely that the theater was targeted for its cultural significance,” the report said.

The PEN report says Russian soldiers also seized and destroyed Ukrainian literature and books in Ukrainian from public libraries in occupied areas.

The report acknowledges that “it is not always possible to determine whether bombings of cultural sites are deliberate or the result of Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas”.

Russian attacks on Ukrainian culture and language predate the start of the war and began in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and supported separatist fighters in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk. Ukraine, said PEN.

PEN Ukraine said it documented 31 civilian writers, artists and other cultural workers killed in Russian attacks this year, and other cultural figures who died fighting with Ukrainian forces.

American author and publisher Dave Eggers, a member of the PEN delegation that presented the report, said he believed the attacks had backfired internationally.

“The irony of Putin’s attempts to erase Ukraine’s culture and heritage (right) has only enriched their culture and made the world pay attention and care. much more to Ukrainian writers and traditions,” Eggers told a news conference.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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