Ukraine Museum Etiquette is a Lesson in Economics as Well as Viewing

Step inside a state-owned Ukrainian museum and you may find yourself in total darkness. Move too quickly through one of the museum exhibit rooms and you may be retrieved like a recalcitrant student by a guide. Museum etiquette is an international language certainly but in Ukraine decorum has as much to do with the state of the country’s economy as it does a way of absorbing the art on view.

Desperate for financial support by the state and limited by private contributions, conservation of electricity is a necessity. Rooms are kept in darkness if visitors are not roaming the museum. Do not think that you can simply switch on the light however. Ukrainian museum staff is thoroughly committed to showing travelers the correct way of “seeing” the heartfelt representations of their country as well as shedding light on the exhibits.

Visitors are often expected to follow a predefined route rather than wandering from room to room at will. There is a story to be told and visitors must see it in the correct order. Museum docents follow visitors from room to room to turn on the lights and tell each aspect of the story. Westerners may find this approach stifling but keep in mind the Ukrainian staff accompanying the visitor know their culture and impart pearls of mystery as well as history when showing off the country’s artistic wares. Moving too quickly through an exhibit room is also considered insulting and ignorant so slow down, take some time, and absorb all the stories both visual and verbal that Ukrainian museums have to offer the traveler.

Many docents are amateur artists in their own right and may try to ply visitors with their own creations to subsidize their meager museum incomes. Buying is not necessary of course but if the handiwork moves you consider a purchase a souvenir from your museum experience. Remember, the person’s work may be on the walls of the museum the next time you visit Ukraine.