Russia is carrying out a major art theft in Ukraine

Russia is carrying out a major art theft in Ukraine

Russia is carrying out a major art theft in Ukraine

Photographic illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photographic illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

The looting of art in wartime dates back millennia, with the Greeks and Romans among the worst perpetrators. Museums and private collections around the world are filled with looted art that changed hands during conflicts. During World War II, a secret allied army known as the “Mount Men” worked to protect European treasures from being stolen by invading armies – with mixed success. Hitler’s stolen treasures are still being discovered all over Germany. Millions of stolen pieces may never be found.

So far, there are no specially trained armies in Ukraine to protect treasures from Russian precision art thieves who work under the cloak of war to empty museums and destroy important pieces of Ukraine’s cultural heritage. There are only brave museum curators in regions where the Russians have taken over doing everything they can to hide and strengthen their art and antiquities, using supplies smuggled in from the West to help them box paintings and statues out of sandbags.

Since Russia began its invasion in February, 250 cultural institutions have been targeted by Russian munitions. Thousands of important museum pieces were destroyed during the bombing of Mariupol and elsewhere. In Melitopol, Scythian gold artifacts worth millions dating back to the 4th century BC were stolen from crates in which the museum had hidden them.

Brian Daniels, an anthropologist from Virginia, is leading a project that monitors the destruction of cultural heritage in Ukraine. “There is now very strong evidence that this is a purposeful move by Russia, with specific paintings and ornaments targeted and taken to Russia,” he told The Daily Beast. His team saw surveillance video provided by Ukraine in which a Russian art expert in a white coat removed the gold with the precision of a surgeon, taking care not to destroy it. “There is a possibility that this is all part of undermining Ukraine’s identity as a separate country, implying legitimate Russian ownership of all its exhibits.”

Art historians are extremely concerned that Russia is stealing the country’s soul by destroying these items. “We have museum buildings destroyed, with all the collections turned to ash – it’s a pretty barbaric situation,” curator and art historian Konstantin Akinsha, an expert on Ukrainian art, told Australia’s ABC Roundtable programme. “[The] The other side of the problem is that in small towns occupied by Russians, we have the first cases of random looting of museums.”

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An employee walks past showcases and protected furniture in one of the galleries of Potocki Palace, one of western Ukraine’s architectural gems and home of the Lviv National Art Gallery in Lviv on May 13, 2022. < /p>

Photo by Yuriy Dyachisyn/AFP via Getty Images

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Photo by Yuriy Dyachisyn/AFP via Getty Images

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An employee walks past showcases and protected furniture in one of the galleries of Potocki Palace, one of western Ukraine’s architectural gems and home of the Lviv National Art Gallery, Lviv on May 13, 2022.

Photo by Yuriy Dyachisyn/AFP via Getty Images

In many cases across Ukraine, museum directors have refused to evacuate without their artwork, so they are crammed into fortified museums. “The directors cannot leave the building because [they will need to] come back at night in case something happens,” said Akinsha, who is in contact with many of them. “So they became a sort of cellar hermits… all over the country.”

Among the destroyed art are 25 pieces by Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko that were in the Ivankiv museum near Kyiv. Ukrainian officials say the art was taken by Russian troops before they destroyed the museum in a missile attack.

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View from the window of Praça do Teatro, sandbags barricade the sculpture fountain “mold maker”, and the windows of the Museum of the Ukrainian Marine Fleet are boarded up. Ukrainian authorities in Odessa have installed barricades in the historic center to protect key sites and monuments in case of Russian bombing or possible street fighting.

Photo by Viacheslav Onyshchenko/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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View from the window of Praça do Teatro, sandbags barricade the sculpture fountain “mold maker”, and the windows of the Museum of the Ukrainian Marine Fleet are boarded up. Ukrainian authorities in Odessa have installed barricades in the historic center to protect key sites and monuments in case of Russian bombing or possible street fighting.

Photo by Viacheslav Onyshchenko/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Viewed from the window of Theater Square, sandbags barricade the fountain sculpture “Molodist”, and the windows of the Museum of the Ukrainian Marine Fleet are covered with boards. Ukrainian authorities in Odessa have installed barricades in the historic center to protect key sites and monuments in case of Russian bombing or possible street fighting.

Photo by Viacheslav Onyshchenko/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Tha ALIPH Foundation, which has worked tirelessly in conflict zones including Syria and Afghanistan – where untold treasures have been destroyed in recent decades – said it is sending supplies such as crates, fireproof blankets and packing materials to Ukrainian museums for help them to strengthen works in case of bombing. continued.

“The storage facilities themselves need to be up to standard,” said Sandra Bialystok, a spokeswoman for ALIPH, in a statement posted on its website. “They need to have proper humidity control, be out of the elements and the packing boxes need to be of a certain caliber to protect the artifacts, because these artifacts are obviously precious and fragile.”

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