Russian forces alleged to have looted thousands of artworks from Ukrainian Museums
Originally published by Artforum, 3 May 2022.
Invading Russian soldiers are said to have made off with thousands of works of art and historical treasures from arts institutions in hard-hit Ukrainian cities, according to numerous sources. Among the items alleged to be missing from their rightful homes are a priceless collection of Scythian gold artifacts dating to the fourth century BCE, which officials say were removed from the Melitopol Museum of Local History. The museum’s director, Leila Ibrahimova, told the New York Times she was kidnapped by Russian forces in March and detained briefly before being released. Galina Kucher, a curator at the institution, was said to have been ordered at gunpoint by Russian troops to disclose the location of the Scythian gold, which was well hidden. Kucher refused, the treasure was nevertheless located, and Kucher was allegedly kidnapped: Her whereabouts are presently unknown. Ibrahimova says she is aware of at least 198 artifacts having been looted from the museum.
In the besieged city of Mariupol, three works by Ukrainian realist painter Arkhip Kuindzhi vanished from the painter’s namesake Kuindzhi Art Museum. Originally said to have been removed for safekeeping prior to bombing by Russian forces, a sketch titled Red Sunset and two preparatory works titled Elbrus and Autumn Crimea are now believed to be in the hands of the Russians. Petr Andryushchenko, an adviser to the pro-Ukrainian Mariupol mayor (Ukraine does not recognize the recently installed Russian city government, as The Art Newspapernotes) on Telegram accused Natalia Kapustnikova, director of Mariupol’s Museum of Local History, of delivering the artworks directly to the Russians, asserting that Kapustnikova, “who knew the exact place of secret storage of masterpieces, personally passed everything from hand to hand.” The Mariupol City Council alleges that some two thousand objects are missing from the city’s museums.
According to a UPI news report, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization last week confirmed that roughly 110 cultural sites in Ukraine have been decimated since the Russian invasion was launched on February 24. Among these are forty-eight religious sites, ten museums, twenty-two historic buildings, eleven buildings used for cultural activities, thirteen monuments, and six libraries. Among the arts institutions that have been damaged or destroyed are the Ivankiv Museum in the Kyiv region, the Regional Art Museum in Chernihiv, and the Kharkiv National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater.