Where to Go 09:35 06 Aug 2021

Picasso and Malevich in a Ukrainian village: why you should visit Parkhomivka in the Kharkiv region

"Sorry, Pablo, but I gifted your pieces to the village teacher for his village gallery. I think they're needed more there. You'll understand me." Hopefully, Picasso understood, because it turns out that Ukrainians don't have to fly to Barcelona to see his work. You can just go to Sloboda Ukraine.

Parkhomivka is a small Ukrainian village in the Kharkiv region. Only 3.6 thousand residents live there. If you look at the map, it's one of the most common settlements in Ukraine. There's a school, a sugar factory, a local church built in 1808 and almost destroyed under Soviet rule. However, Parkhomivka isn't known for this. The genuine diamond of this village is the Parkhomivka Art Museum; here, in the Sloboda region, you can see the original works of Picasso, Kandinsky, Malevich, Roerich. Many metropolitan art galleries around the world could envy the invaluable collection of the Ukrainian rural museum.

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How did Picasso get into the Ukrainian village?

A valuable collection of paintings in Parkhomivka was collected by the museum's founder, a local schoolteacher, Panas Luniov. It all started with the "Young Historian" student group, which a young history teacher founded at Parkhomivka School in the late 1940s. Fascinated by history, Panas Luniov believed that children can't learn this subject without getting acquainted with the original samples of antiquity and art. He was an avid collector, searching for and buy miraculously undamaged icons and paintings that had survived the years of collectivization and war. During the holidays, the children helped to conduct search work in Parkhomivka and neighboring villages, and in their free time, students surveyed every corner of their own and neighboring yards. As it turned out, there were many interesting household items, ancient icons, antique coins, and even paintings by famous artists at the attics. These finds together with Panas Luniov's collection formed the basis of the school's local history room, which later grew into a museum.

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Panas Luniov, the museum's founder

Are school museums actually serious?

School museums in Ukraine began to appear at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, but they became most popular in the 1950s. Usually, these were separate rooms on the territory of schools, where schools placed local lore exhibits. Dedicated to his work, Luniov went further. To obtain practical and methodological assistance, he established contacts with museum institutions; Kharkiv museums helped to found the museum in Parkhomivka: art and history museums, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Hermitage, Union of USSR artists. Kharkiv artists, whom the founder and inspirer of the "Young Historian" had friendly relations with, also supported the aspirations of the village teacher and his students. In the first years of the museum's existence, they donated about 50 painting works and graphics.

The newborn museum wanted to grow and expand, but the possibilities of the historical circle were very limited. Panas Luniov once invited children to write letters to contemporary artists and sculptors asking them to share their works with the school museum.

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"After class, we stayed with the boys in the class and wrote letters… asking them to tell us about themselves, what fascinates them in art, and, if possible, to send some of their work, because we wanted to touch the great art, not through books, encyclopedias, photographs, and with our own eyes…" the museum's founder recalled.

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"Sorry, Pablo"

Many well-known figures of culture and arts responded to the letters of the young Parkhomivka schoolkids. And they started sending paintings to the village as a gift. Parcels even came from the Dresden Gallery! Some exhibits were donated by the collection owners. Art critic Volodymyr Favorskyi purchased works by modern German graphic artists for the Parkhomivka Museum. Thus, the collection was replenished with works by Hans Grundig, Herbert Tucholski, and Arnaud Moreau. And thanks to the writer Ilya Ehrenburg, who was friends with the genius artist, two paintings by Picasso appeared in the museum: "Dove of Peace" and " Portrait of Frederic Joliot-Curie." Ilya Ehrenburg wrote in a letter to his friend: "I'm sorry, Pablo, but I gave your work to a village teacher for his village gallery. I think they're needed more there. You'll understand me."

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"Dove of Peace", a painting by Picasso from the Parkhomivka Museum collection

Nowadays, some of those generous gifts cost millions of dollars, and at first, all these jewels were kept just on the school grounds, the museum worked only on weekends and holidays and only students took care of the paintings. Subsequently, the school collection moved to a separate building, and in 1986, the Parkhomivka Museum became an autonomous department of the Kharkiv Art Museum.

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Malevich's painting from the Parkhomivka Museum collection

Why go to Parkhomivka?

Today, the Parkhomivka Art Museum has more than 7,500 exhibits from different eras and countries. There are 4 paintings by Picasso, works by Aivazovsky, Repin, Malevich, and Kandinsky. Besides the above authors, there are Shevchenko, Dürer, Shishkin, Mayakovsky, Yablonskaya, and others. Most of the collection hasn't yet been researched, there's not enough money for serious examinations, so you may read the "Unknown Artist" inscription under some exhibits. Perhaps later, after the examinations, the names of Renoir, Gauguin, Cesar, and Matisse, mentioned by Panas Luniov in his records, appear under these paintings. But even now, you can see unique works of painting, graphics, sculpture, decorative and applied arts, pieces of archeology, and ethnography in the halls of the museum. Luniov also donated his personal collection to the museum collection. The enthusiasm of the village historian and his students made Parkhomivka one of the most famous art centers in the region and Ukraine.

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Even though the museum in Parkhomivka is 65 years old, the general public knew little about it until recently. The museum lacked advertising, and Parkhomivka residents, the attention of tour agents, and convenient connections with other settlements.

But this year, after hearing the museum's history, art connoisseur, political scientist Mykola Davydiuk took up the branding of this museum. In a short period of time, he and his team, on a volunteer basis, formed the identity of the museum, communication strategy, a line of branded goods, created professional photo exhibitions for the museum's website. Branded stops appeared in Dnipro, Poltava, and Kharkiv: "Art is closer than you think!"

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Activists also realized that the museum wouldn't be able to receive foreigners without an English-language modern audio guide, which we often come across abroad, but very rarely at home. To create an audio guide, they hired writers and translators, who made a description for almost a hundred paintings in the museum. Singer Alina Pash and writer Serhii Zhadan became the voices of the museum's audio guide. Work on this project isn't finished yet, but Parkhomivka museum visitors will be able to hear stories about its masterpieces on their phones very soon.

Mykola Davydiuk and his team want to promote the museum, make it an important tourist center not only for their region but also for all of Ukraine and foreign tourists, make every effort to ensure that the museum helps its micro-region, united territorial community, village, district. For a new road to finally appear in Parkhomivka out of love for art, for the village to raise and stand firmly on its feet thanks to the museum.

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"I flew to the Picasso exhibition in Barcelona, ​​not even guessing that his work is waiting for me in Parkhomivka. It's time to correct the situation. For such cities as Kyiv, Poltava, Dnipro, Kharkiv, it's impossible to think of a better weekend tour. Residents of these beautiful cities and their environs will be able to see the Spanish Picasso and the Ukrainian Malevich without going abroad, but simply by visiting the beautiful Sloboda Ukraine. In addition, we know thousands of examples of how similar museums became the locomotives of their territories' development, changed the philosophy of the region, and multiplied its profits. I know for sure that it will happen in Parkhomivka, but now we're at the point where each of us can put our little brick into the big foundation of a success story," the activist said on his Facebook page.

He also calls on Ukrainian artists to help the museum with their works. As the collection was assembled in the Soviet Union, now it consists mainly of the world and Russian artists and there are nearly no works of our compatriots. And this needs to be fixed. By the way, Ivan Marchuk, one of the most famous Ukrainian artists in the world, one of the TOP-100 geniuses in the world according to The Daily Telegraph, has already responded to this call. He supported Parkhomivka and donated his painting to the Parkhomivka Museum.

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Mykola Davydiuk with Ivan Marchuk

Each of us can enjoy the works of world-famous artists, support the museum, the village, and Ukrainian cultural tourism in general. All you need to do is to plan a trip to Parkhomivka.

Unfortunately, despite the names of the artists, this place is still not similar to what a museum of this level should be. On the way to art, you need to be ready for the harsh Ukrainian reality with no roads, stylish cafes or restaurants, hotels, places to relax, and much more. But this reality of ours can also be changed. And as the example of a village teacher shows, these changes are in our hands.

Agree, the incredibly inspiring story of Panas Luniov is already a reason to visit the museum, located only 345 km from Kyiv. That is about 4-5 hours on the road to see Picasso and Malevich (from Poltava and Kharkiv, it's even closer, only 1.5 hours). The entrance ticket costs only 20 hryvnias; for pupils, students, and pensioners, it's 10 hryvnias. The exhibit is open every day, except on Mondays and Tuesdays and certain public holidays, from 09:00 to 17:00. The museum hosts tours and workshops.

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Besides the Parkhomivka Museum, you can visit the house where Malevich lived for 4 years, look at the church, being rebuilt by a Lviv priest, and combine the trip with a visit to Sharivka Palace (Kharkiv region) or Dykanka (Poltava region). You can spend the night within the community in a mini-hotel in Krasnokutsk; there's a green estate in the village of Cherneshchyna, a room for the night in the "Slobozhanskyi" national nature park in the village of Volodymyrivka. As the Parkhomivka Museum is included in the tourist map of Ukraine, and you can order excursions in your city tourist firms.

Be sure to take the time to go to Parkhomivka yourself and tell about the museum to your friends, relatives, and acquaintances abroad. And subscribe to the museum's Instagram pages.

  • Museum address: Kontorska Street, 2, Parkhomivka, Bohodukhiv district, Kharkiv region.
  • How to get there: from Kharkiv by Kharkiv-Kotelva bus (through Parkhomivka) from the bus station №2, platform №6 (the Tsentralnyi Rynok and Istorychnyi Musei metro stations).
  • Coordinates: 50.1245299, 35.0075564
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