New JLM Russian-Orthodox museum opening disrupted by pro-Ukraine protests

Aimed at commemorating the Russian-Orthodox pilgrimages to Jerusalem that began in 1882, the museum's inauguration ceremony was disturbed by protestors shouting "Glory to Ukraine."

 PEOPLE GATHER outside a European Union emergency foreign ministers meeting in Brussels in 2014, to protest against Russian troops in Ukraine. We need to internalize that this is not Russia’s first seizure of territory – remember Crimea in 2014.  (photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)
PEOPLE GATHER outside a European Union emergency foreign ministers meeting in Brussels in 2014, to protest against Russian troops in Ukraine. We need to internalize that this is not Russia’s first seizure of territory – remember Crimea in 2014.
(photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)

A new museum dedicated to the "History of the Russian Presence in the Holy Land" opened on Sunday at the Mission of Saint Sergius of Jerusalem building near the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem amid a pro-Ukrainian protest, Russian and Ukrainian media reported.

The museum's inauguration coincided with both Russia Day and the 140th anniversary of the Imperial Palestinian Orthodox Society (IOPS) which was founded in 1882 to promote Russian Orthodox pilgrimages to the city.

The opening ceremony, which was led by Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov, was supposed to include the uncovering of a new plaque at the entrance to the building, but the uncovering was disrupted by a number of pro-Ukrainian protesters carrying signs with anti-Russian slogans and shouting "Glory to Ukraine," according to the Ukrainian news agency Interfax.

The protesters managed to prevent the ambassador from revealing the plaque and he left the scene without doing so, one wrote on Facebook.

The museum tells the story of the Russian pilgrims in the late 19th and early 20th century and includes documents from the IOPS archives along with authentic items of pilgrims, books, photographs and more, according to a Russian state media report. 

The building, known as Sergei's Courtyard, sits immediately outside of the Russian Compound and is named for and dominated by a large guest house constructed in 1890 for aristocratic pilgrims by grand duke Sergei Alexandrovich, then president of the society. Sergei was the son of Tsar Alexander II, brother of the infamous Tsar Alexander III and uncle of the last tsar, Nicholas II. 

  Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, conducts a service on Orthodox Christmas at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, Russia January 6, 2018. (credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS) Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, conducts a service on Orthodox Christmas at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, Russia January 6, 2018. (credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS)

History of Sergei's Courtyard

The courtyard was chartered by the Russians from the Ottomans in 1858 to be used for the pilgrims until World War I, when the lot was confiscated by the Turks. After the war, the British Mandate requisitioned the courtyard and used it as a police station, jail and government building, as well as maintaining an ongoing Russian Orthodox presence. The building came into Israel's control after independence in 1948 and became home to Israel's Ministry of Agriculture. 

In 1964, following a protracted legal negotiation between Israel and the Soviet government, Jerusalem purchased most of the Russian Compound from the Red Church for $4.5 million, two-thirds of which was paid with oranges in what became known as the "Oranges Deal."

But the status of Sergei's Courtyard continued to face legal challenges until 2008, when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert officially handed it over to the Russian Federation, reportedly in return for the Russians denying Iran then equilibrium-upsetting S-300 ground-to-air missiles.

The handover of the courtyard was completed in 2012, and underwent an extensive renovation until July 2017.