Origin of the museum


Founded in 1960s, the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine houses the material highlights of the Ukrainian culture. Among them there are the objects from the exhibition organized in Kyiv in August 1899 for the All-Russia archeological congress. Those exhibits became the base for the Museum of Antiquities and Arts, the first museum in the city of Kyiv for which had been created a special building by the architect P. Boytsov and V. Gorodetsky on Alexandre Street (nowadays the National Art Museum, situated on 6 Hrushevsky Street).

The museum was solemnly open on December 30, 1904 with the title as “Kiev Arts, Crafts and Sciences Museum in honour of the Emperor Nickolas Alexandrovich II”. Afterwards this museum saw many reorganizations and denominations.  Its first director was Мykola Biliashivsky, archaeologist and ethnographer, later the member of the Pan-Ukrainian Academy. The collections were enriched thanks to offerings by I. Khoynovsky, F. Kunderevich, V. Geze, V. Antonovich, the families of Khanenko and Теreschenко and also thanks to excavations by archaeologists А. Bobrinsky, Е. Znosko-Borovsky, S. Mazaraki, D. Ivanishev.
Among the donators of the museum were famous scientists: archaeologist V. Khvoyka, ethnographer D. Scherbakivsky and others.

The museum was sponsored by patrons of art and, since 1909, annually granted by the state. After the tumultuous revolutionary time, only in 1919 the museum got the new state patronage. In 1924 it was named as the Pan-Ukrainian historical museum in honour of Т. Shevchenко, later in 1935 reorganized into the Central historical museum of Т. Shevchenко.

That time it was transferred in the museums zone created in the Кyiv-Pechersk Lavra.

In May 1944 the collection was moved to a building on the Old Kyiv hill - former art school built by architect I. Karakis in 1937. There it began to work as the State Republic historical museum, since 1965 it got name of the State historical museum of the Ukrainian SSR. In October 1991 it got the national status and nowadays it’s called as the National Historical Museum of Ukraine.


The Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, branch of the NHMU, got the most ancient precious exhibits from Bohdan Khanenko’s collection (1848-1917). There were about 1500 exhibits from different periods, mostly archeological finds.

The earliest are the griffin-shaped gold appliqués, found in the Perepiatykha Barrow near the town of Fastiv in Kyiv region during archaeological excavations carried out in 1845 by the Kyiv Archaeographic Commission under the guidance of M. Ivanishev, Professor of the St. Vladimir University. In that archaeological staff worked, as a painter of expedition, Taras Shevchenko - this graduate of the St. Petersburg Arts Academy made sketches of the findings and also painted reconstruction of the barrow.

B. and V. Khanenko put their collections on display in the building, constructed in 1882 by the architect R. Meltser in Tereschenkivska Street. In 1919 it was transformed into the Museum of Occidental and Oriental Arts, in 1921-1934 - the Museum of Arts under the Pan-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and nowadays this institution bears the name of the founders, it is the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Art Museum.

The first director of the museum, scholar of renown, M. Biliashivsky made a lot to preserve and increase his museum collection of antiquities. It should also mention the names of D. Scherbakivsky, V. Khvoika and other persons who sought to save precious objects in the museum, very afraid of their loss. Unfortunately, many articles of great material value were removed from Ukraine that time.

Among the national treasures, the religious items of cult suffered most of all under the Soviet power in the 1920s. After Decree “On the order of withdrawal of religious precious objects” of February 23, 1922 the All-Ukraine Central Executive Committee approved on March 8, 1922 resolution “On transfer of church treasures to the fund of assistance to starving population”. This resolution gave the government a free hand to collect in May 1922 the articles of precious metals from all churches, cathedrals, praying houses and synagogues.

Thanks to participation in the work of special commissions of such museum experts as D. Scherbakivsky some cultural values were rescued from destruction. For example there are the golden mitre of the early eighteenth century decorated with precious stones and enamel medallions; the seventeenth - eighteenth centuries chalices, patens, tabernacles and panagias. Later, in 1926 the orthodox ornaments and the ornaments from synagogues found their place in the collections of the Shevchenko All-Ukraine Historical Museum in Kyiv and the All-Ukraine Museum of Jewish Culture in Odessa.

The museum collections saw a devastating blow at the end of the 1920s. In 1929 the „Derzhtorg” (the State Department of Trade) was charged by the government of the USSR „to take articles from the museums of Ukraine for the amount of at least 600,000 roubles” - its focus was on the most precious articles that were of the gretest national cultural and historical significance. No matter how persistent the directors and the experts of the museums were to retain their treasures, the latter were withdrawn and sent to Leningrad to the Antikvariat Firm, engaged in selling treasures at international auctions.

On November 27, 1933, the People’s Commissariat of Education of Ukraine issued the directive № 873/1 on depositing the museum treasures of precious metals in the State Bank. In compliance with this directive the Shevchenko All-Ukraine Historical Museum, from January 8 to March 8, 1934, transferred to the Kyiv Office of the State Bank all museum exhibits of precious metals, that operation was registered in thirty-seven records of 151 pages. The same year (March 26 - April 1) the Art Museum performed the same procedure. Two preserved records of eighteen pages testify that the museum transferred to the Kyiv regional office of the State Bank the Scythian gold adornments, Jewelry of the Kyivan Rus epoch, and Byzantine and Georgian enamels from the collection of B. and V. Khanenko.

With the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War in 1941-1945, all Museum exhibits were immediately sent to the State Depository in Moscow; thence they were evacuated to Ufa with other material assets. In October 1946 the exhibits were returned to Kyiv and were placed in the funds of the Historical Museum.


The Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine was created as a result of an outstanding archaeological discovery. In 1954, in the city of Melitopol, the renowned archaeologist Oleksy Terenozhkin (1907-1981), the leader of the Scythian scholarship of Kyiv, excavated an exceptional tumulus from the fourth century BCE. The rich findings attracted again the scholars’ attention to the research into the burial mounds of Scythian nobility.

Afterwards the disciples of Terenozhkin continued his research with successful discovering of such interesting Scythian monuments as Haymanova Mohyla, Tovsta Mohyla, Oguz, Zhovtokamianka, Berdiansky and other tumuli.

After half a century break in research of Scythian burial mounds, the excavations in 1954 uncovered more than three thousand gold decorations: two hundreds were displayed in the Melitopol Regional Museum, and the rest of gold appliqués accompany a masterpiece of toreutic art, gold cover of quiver  in the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine.

It was a natural wish to retain the unique finds in Ukraine and to break the empire-born tendency to give the most valuable treasures out to the museums of Russia. When M. Artamonov, director of the State Museum of Hermitage, knew about the results of the excavations in Melitopol, he wrote to the Institute of Archaeology at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. It was a letter requesting that the finds should be transferred from Melitopol to the State Hermitage in Leningrad. Without a positive answer the director of the Hermitage Museum addressed with the same request O. Palladin, President of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. However, the Academician ordered that all the materials from the Melitopol tumulus should be transferred to the State Historical Museum of the Ukrainian SSR and henceforward all historical monuments should remain in Ukraine.

Kovnir building of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine.
Kovnir building of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine. December 2005

Later the Historical Museum staff was proposed to organize an exhibition of its treasures, from the existing display and the store of funds. After having visited that exhibition, the Government commission concluded the number of exhibits of precious metals to be enough for foundation of a special department - the Golden Chamber. So the sensational archaeological find fostered an initiation of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine.

On November 22, 1963, the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR issued Decree № 1300 on creation of the Golden Chamber Department at the State Historical Museum in Kyiv to keep and display museum treasures made of precious metals and stones.

In two years the Department obtained the museum status. In 1968 it was named as the Museum of Historical Treasures of the Ukrainian SSR. On January 4, 1969, it opened its doors for the visitors. In 1991, in compliance with the Decree of the Government, the branch of the National Historical Museum of Ukraine received its present-day name of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine.

Kovnir building of the MHTU
Kovnir building of the MHTU. May 2007

The basis of the MHTU funds is constituted with the exhibits from the State Historical Museum. Among them there are 77,500 pieces of numismatic, phaleristic and medal art. This collection has been considerably replenished during existence of the MHTU, and nowadays the numismatics are on display in the National Historical Museum of Ukraine.

Twenty four museums of Ukraine transferred their precious exhibits to the new Museum. During 1964-1968 the Museum was offered with 2,400 articles. The Institute of Archaeology at the National Academy of Sciences made an invaluable contribution of more than 30,000 precious objects. The Universities of Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk also transferred the precious finds from the excavations carried out by their Archaeology Departments. So the MHTU houses “The Scythian Gold”, the great collection doing proud to the ancient goldsmiths and especially famous for the gold three-leveled pectoral from the fourth century BCE.

The funds of the MHTU are replenished with acquisitions by its Conservation Department that had purchased many articles of museum value from private persons and organizations. Many exhibits moved from the State Customs.

At the beginning the museum had above 14,000 articles of archaeology and applied art, nowadays its main fund numbers 56,000 precious exhibits.
The funds of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine conserve the three main sections:

  1. Archaeological monuments of the Scythian-Sarmatian period;
  2. Archaeological monuments of the period of the Great Migration, the Early Slavs and the Kyivan Rus;
  3. Articles of applied art used in the territory of Ukraine during the sixteenth – early twentieth centuries.
Way to the MHTU
Way to the MHTU. May 2007

Following that division the exhibition has been mounted in the nine rooms of the Kovnir building, an architectural monument built in the first half of the eighteenth century on the hill of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.

The Exhibition and Conservation Departments do a lot of research work to underpin temporary exhibitions, scholarly publications, permanent exhibition development and conferences. The MHTU organizes “The Museum Lectures” and publish annual issue with its speakers’ articles, that could be of interest to the scholars and the general public. The museum exhibits provide an inexhaustible source of knowledge, which helps to learn more about art, production and everyday life of the ancient people.

The Restoration Department has strenuously restored above 20,000 ancient monuments of Jewelry art. Restoration made possible to replenish the permanent exhibition, to participate in international exhibitions, to realize internal temporary exhibitions (“Monuments of Jewish Culture”, “Masterpieces of West-European Art”, etc.), to issue catalogues.

Since 1975 the MHTU has been holding international exhibition activities. In 1987 the Museum organized its first independent exhibition in Italy. Afterwards the museum staff have prepared above twenty projects and prepared the exhibitions in many countries of Europe, in the USA, Canada and Japan. Every exhibition was widely covered in the foreign mass media.

The collection of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine is a real chronicle of the country that the jewelers had created since the Bronze Age till the Present.

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