Sunday, November 27, 2022


The devastation in Ukraine caused by the Russian assault on civilian populations leaving cities without water or electricity, is hard to imagine from our comfortable lives. Looking to the future we all hope that Ukraine comes out of this not only victorious but also with their culture intact. If I repeat anything I wrote in the spring I will defend myself by stressing the increased cultural sins of the Russian forces and their leader.

It seems to be indiscriminate whether the Russians steal or destroy the art.

In the one case, however, the case of the Scythian Gold they clearly knew what they were doing. When I first read about this in the spring I was happy that the Ukrainians had hidden their most valuable, in every sense of the word, Scythian gold but obviously to no avail.

“When Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine began” according to The Guardian from last April, “the director of the Museum of Local History in Melitopol, in the south-east of the country, Leila Ibrahimova, arranged for a hoard of gold artefacts from ancient Scythia to be hidden. Just a few weeks later, she was kidnapped and interrogated by Russian troops. They demanded to know where the Scythian gold was; she refused to cooperate. Subsequently the museum’s curator Galina Andriivna Kucher was taken at gunpoint to the museum and asked to show a Russian “expert” and agents where the gold was. She also refused to locate the collection. Kucher was later abducted from her home on 30 April and her whereabouts remainsed unknown.”

In June, The Daily Beast wrote of the Russian plunder: “Since Russia began its invasion in February, 250 cultural institutions have been targeted by Russian munitions. Thousands of important museums pieces have been destroyed during the bombing of Mariupol and elsewhere. In Melitopol, Scythian gold artifacts worth millions that date back to the fourth century B.C. were stolen from crates the museum had hidden them in.”

According to a report on the theft in the New York Times, Russian troops eventually found the gold hoard boxed up in the museum’s basement. The items were taken to Donetsk, in the Russian-controlled Donbas region, for “safety”, with the museum’s newly installed puppet director, Evgeny Gorlachev, stating that the gold artefacts were not just for Ukrainians but “of great cultural value for the entire former Soviet Union”. His carefully chosen words were designed to erase the collection’s Ukrainian heritage and replace it with a Soviet one, suggesting Ukraine was back within Russia’s sphere of influence and control.

In July the American publication, Newsweek reported the following, “The accusation made by the Mariupol City Council on its Telegram account said that the alleged theft by Russians mimics actions of the Nazis during World War II, when Adolf Hitler's Third Reich ordered the seizure of cultural property that did not reflect Nazi ideals and could be sold for financial gain for the purpose of creating a new cultural museum in Austria.”

The Russian rape of art from Ukraine has intensified. Recently I saw an article in the German Art Magazine, Weltkunst, stating that 15,000 works were taken by the Russians as they were driven out of Kherson this month. The stolen art ranged from 17th century Icons to contemporary art. According to the article the Oleksiy Shovkunenko Museum was cleaned out!

The KYIV Independent newspaper reported that four trucks with stolen art arrived in Simferopol, a city in Russian-occupied Crimea and who knows where else they brought the purloined art. I am quite sure art experts were not there to vet what was taken so it was just to cause as much distress as possible. I know how upset I would be if objects that had sentimental value were suddenly taken from my home.

The Jerusalem Post expanded on the report that the Ministry of Defense in Ukraine wrote on its Twitter account: "The occupiers stole everything from Kherson: paintings from art galleries, antiquities from museums, historic manuscripts from libraries. But their most prized loot was a raccoon they stole from a zoo. Steal a raccoon and Die." They were even spotted stealing a Llama!

As I write this missive, what is of most immediate concern is the loss of human life and the suffering of those who survive, but in the long term the remains of the history and culture of a country are vital to its identity and the will of its people to carry on.

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