Reposted from Radio Free Europe
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of looting priceless artifacts from a museum in the southern city of Melitopol as fighting and missile strikes continued in Ukraine’s south and east.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov said during a national telethon that “the orcs have taken hold of our Scythian gold,” using a derogatory term by which many Ukrainians refer to the invading Russian soldiers. “We don’t know where they took it.”
The New York Times reported that the director of the Melitopol Museum of Local History, Leila Ibrahimova, said museum workers had hidden the priceless treasure in boxes in a cellar. After Russian troops abducted and interrogated her for several hours in March, Ibrahimova left Melitopol for Kyiv-controlled territory.
Melitopol has been occupied by Russian forces since early March.
Last week, she was informed by the museum’s caretaker that the Russians had discovered the boxes with the help of the Russian-appointed de facto museum director. Russian troops and intelligence officers watched as a Russian in a white lab coat carefully removed the artifacts, which are more than 2,300 years old, and took them away.
According to The New York Times, at least 198 gold items, rare old weapons, a number of silver coins, and medals were removed.
Ukrainian officials had earlier said that Russian forces had looted paintings, icons, and sculptures from a museum in the Azov Sea port of Mariupol. Officials said on April 29 that more than 250 cultural institutions had been damaged or destroyed since the Russians invaded on February 24. Kyiv has accused the Russian government of carrying out a policy of “genocide” against the Ukrainian nation.
In an interview on Russian television, the Russian-appointed de facto museum head, Yevhen Horlachev, said the artifacts “are of great culture value for the entire former Soviet Union” and accused the museum staff of expending “a lot of effort and energy” to hide them.
He did not say where the artifacts had been taken.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a dispute over other Scythian artifacts currently located in the Netherlands since the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.
The artifacts from several Crimean museums were on display in Amsterdam when Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula, and both Russia and Ukraine claimed ownership. In October 2021, a Dutch court awarded control of the treasures to Ukraine, but they remain in the Netherlands.
Melitopol Museum Director Ibrahimova said the museum’s caretaker was abducted from her home at gunpoint on April 29 and has not been heard from since.
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