Science Museum Group director Ian Blatchford is to return a Russian state decoration following the country's invasion of Ukraine.
The Pushkin Medal was personally presented by Russian president Vladimir Putin in a 2015 ceremony at the Kremlin to honour Blatchford’s role in creating the Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition.
The medal is a Russian state decoration for achievements in the arts and culture, education, humanities and literature, named in honour of Russian author and poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin.
In a personal statement today, Blatchford said: “In response to the suffering of the people of Ukraine during the Russian invasion, I have taken the personal decision to return a Russian cultural decoration received in 2015.
“The Pushkin Medal marked the success of the Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition at the Science Museum. This landmark exhibition was the first ever scholarly survey of the pioneering achievement of Russian cosmonauts and scientists in space exploration.
“It was made possible by the expertise and dedication of colleagues in the Science Museum Group and many people in cultural and scientific organisations in Russia, who retain my gratitude and respect. We had hoped to mark an important part of 20th century history and also foster stronger progressive links between the UK and Russia.
“However, I cannot keep a medal that was handed out in the name of the Russian state by Vladimir Putin, who is responsible for this war. My enduring admiration for the Russian people themselves, and their cultural and scientific achievements, is undiminished.
“I know I speak for all my colleagues in the Science Museum Group, when I say we stand united in opposition to this conflict and in support of all those impacted by Russia’s invasion.”
The announcement comes after the group confirmed the cancellation of its upcoming exhibition, Trans-Siberian: The World’s Longest Railway.
Joint Stock Company Russian Railways, a Russian state-owned railway company, was the principle partner for the exhibition. The company is now subject to international sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine.
Blatchford said of the cancellation: “We have lit up the Science Museum to show support for the people of Ukraine, who are suffering so much darkness and uncertainty during the invasion by Russia.
“In light of distressing events in Ukraine, we have decided not to proceed with our upcoming exhibition at the National Railway Museum and Science Museum, Trans-Siberian: The World’s Longest Railway.”
The exhibition, which had already been delayed a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, would have explored the engineering challenge behind the railway’s construction and its social and economic impact. It had been due to open at the National Railway Museum in York this summer, with a smaller display at the Science Museum in London.