Vladislav Polenov, an employee of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, who was called up in 2022 to serve in the Russian forces that invaded Ukraine, has died on the front, apparently the first Russian museum worker to perish in the war. The news was posted on the Tretyakov site on 1 August.
“At such moments it is very difficult to find words of support and condolences, because what happened is irreparable,” said the museum’s statement. “We are obliged to tell about his feat—he died defending his wounded comrade. We must remember what he did for all of us and support his loved ones, family and friends. We remember and mourn.”
Polenov first made the news when his family lost touch with him after he was drafted in the partial mobilisation launched by President Vladimir Putin last September, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Russian men fleeing the country. After the reports of his death, Ukrainian and Russian Twitter commentators criticised Polenov for submitting to the draft.
Polenov was granted a short leave to visit his family earlier this year. At the time he told Ksenia Korobeinikova, who runs an influential Telegram channel about the art and museum scene, of his experiences on the front. “The first feelings are fear and amazement,” he said.
“How could I, a museum worker, be under fire from a tank and see all this? October was the toughest. There was a pleasant moment when we were sent to rest. I have never seen so many ‘humanitarian’ goodies.”
Two male curators of Moscow museums who left Russia because of the invasion tell The Art Newspaper that they had not heard of other former colleagues being drafted or dying on the front. One of them, Alexander A. Burganov, who has curated exhibitions at several major Moscow museums, is now preparing a show, Russians Against War, that will open at The Exchange at King’s College, London, in October.