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Ukraine accuses Russian troops of looting museums, destroying cultural sites


The exquisite gold crown, inlaid with precious stones by master craftsmen 1,500 years ago, is one of the world’s most valuable artifacts from the bloody rule of Attila the Hun, who Fighting with horse warriors deep into Europe in the 5th century.

Hun tiara, also known as diadem, has now disappeared from the museum in Ukraine where it is located – perhaps, historians fear forever. The Russian military stole the priceless crown and another treasure after capturing the Ukrainian city of Melitopol in February, museum authorities said.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its eighth month, has been accompanied by destruction and looting of historical sites and treasures on an industrial scale, Ukrainian authorities say.

In an interview with the AP news agency, Ukraine’s culture minister alleged that Russian soldiers helped him find artifacts in nearly 40 Ukrainian museums. The looting and destruction of cultural sites has caused damage estimated at hundreds of millions of euros, Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko added.

“The attitude of the Russian people towards Ukraine’s cultural heritage is a war crime,” he said.

Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s Culture Minister, speaks to the Associated Press in Kyiv on September 6. (Efrem Lukatsky / The Associated Press)

Currently, the Ukrainian government and its Western arms supply supporters are mainly focused on defeating Russia on the battlefield. But if and when peace returns, preserving Ukraine’s art, history and cultural collections will also be important, so survivors of the war can start the next one: building rebuild their lives.

“These are museums, historic buildings, churches. Everything was built and created by generations of Ukrainians,” Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska, said in September when she visited a Ukraine Museum in New York. “This is a war against our identity.”

Workers at the Museum of Local History in Melitopol first tried to hide the Hun diadem and hundreds of other treasures when Russian troops stormed the southern city. But after weeks of repeated searches, Russian soldiers finally discovered the building’s secret basement, where staff had destroyed the museum’s most valuable objects – including his remains. Hun area, according to a museum employee.

The unnamed employee told the AP, fearing Russian punishment for even discussing the events, said Ukraine did not know where the Russian military had shipped, including the crown and about 1,700 other artifacts. .

A 1,500-year-old gold crown inlaid with precious stones is seen in the Melitopol museum in November 2020. It is one of the world’s most valuable artifacts from Attila the Hun’s rule. (Relevant press)

Raised from a burial chamber in 1948, the crown is one of the few Hun crowns worldwide. Museum staff say other treasures that have disappeared with Russian soldiers include 198 pieces of 2,400-year-old gold from the era of the Scythians, nomads who migrated from Central Asia to southern Russia and Ukraine, and established an empire in Crimea.

“These are ancient finds. These are works of art. They are priceless,” said Oleksandr Symonenko, lead researcher at the Institute of Archeology of Ukraine. “If culture disappears, it’s an irreparable disaster.”

The Russian Ministry of Culture did not respond to questions about the Melitopol collection.

The museum was looted

Russian forces also looted museums as they laid waste in the Black Sea port of Mariupol, according to Ukrainian officials, who were dispatched from the southern city, which has come under relentless Russian shelling. It fell into full control of Moscow only in May when the Ukrainian defenders holding on to the city’s steel mills finally surrendered.

The Mariupol City Council in Exile said Russian forces had stolen more than 2,000 items from the city’s museums. Among the most valuable items, the council said, are ancient religious icons, a unique handwritten Torah scroll, a 200-year-old bible and more than 200 medals.

Art works by the painters Arkhip Kuindzhi born in Mariupol and Ivan Aivazovsky born in Crimea were also looted, both famous for their marine landscapes, the commissioners in exile said. They said the Russian military had transported their stolen bounties to the Russian-occupied Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

The museum of Arkhip Kuindzhi, a Russian landscape artist, is demolished in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, on April 28. (Relevant press)

The invasion has also caused great damage and destruction to Ukraine’s culture. The UN cultural agency is tallying sites hit by rockets, bombs and shells. With the war now entering its eighth month, the agency said it has verified damage to 199 locations in 12 regions.

These include 84 churches and other religious sites, 37 buildings of historical importance, 37 buildings devoted to cultural activities, 18 memorials, 13 museums and 10 libraries, UNESCO for know.

The Ukrainian government’s numbers are even higher, with authorities saying the number of destroyed and damaged religious buildings alone has reached at least 270.

‘We are afraid of the Russian occupiers’

While the invading forces hunted for treasures to steal, Ukrainian museum staff did what they could to keep them out of Russian hands. Tens of thousands of items have been evacuated from the front lines and war zones.

In Kyiv, the director of the Museum of the Treasury of Ukrainian History lived in the building, guarding its artifacts, during the first weeks of the invasion when Russian forces tried unsuccessfully to besiege the capital. .

Director Natalia Panchenko recalls: “We were afraid of the Russian occupiers, because they destroyed everything that could be identified as Ukrainians.

Visitors view a replica of the fourth-century BC gold statue, an ancient treasure from the tomb mound of the Scythian king, on display in the Museum of Historical Treasures in Kyiv on September 2. Russian troops would flood the city, museum staff dismantled the exhibits, carefully packing artifacts into boxes for evacuation. Currently, the museum is only displaying replicas. (Efrem Lukatsky / The Associated Press)

Fearing that the Russian army would flood the city, she managed to confuse them by removing the plaque on the entrance of the museum. She also dismantled the artifacts, carefully packing the artifacts into boxes for evacuation.

One day, she hopes, they will return to their rightful place. Currently, the museum is only displaying replicas.

“These things are very fragile, they last for hundreds of years,” she said. “We couldn’t bear to think they could be lost.”

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