Russian forces systematically stealing Ukrainian art, cultural artifacts - report

This was exemplified in what happened during the Russian withdrawal from Kherson, which saw Russian forces take down statues and steal 15,000 works of art.

 The Kherson Art Museum (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Kherson Art Museum
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Russian forces in Ukraine are undertaking a systematic and deliberate effort to rob and destroy Ukrainian cultural artifacts in its occupation of the country, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

This was exemplified during the Russian withdrawal from Kherson, which saw Russian forces take down statues and steal artwork and more.

According to UNESCO, Russian forces have either partially or completely destroyed over 200 Ukrainian cultural sites.

Around 15,000 works of art were stolen from Kherson Art Museum, according to Sprotvy, a website affiliated with the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces. Sprtovy also claimed that the Russian forces have also taken plumbing fixtures, including toilets and household appliances. 

The theft of art in Kherson, however, was very extensive and methodical. A report by PBS indicated that collaborators in the museum helped inform Russian forces about the collection, and these items were then shipped off to other museums in Russian-held territory.

Russian soldier on the Ukrainian border, March 1 (credit: REUTERS)Russian soldier on the Ukrainian border, March 1 (credit: REUTERS)

"I am furious," Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksander Tkachenko told PBS. 

"These are our heritage. There is our identity. If they stole heritage, they believe that we wouldn't continue to live and to create. But we will."

"These are our heritage. There is our identity. If they stole heritage, they believe that we wouldn't continue to live and to create. But we will."

Oleksander Tkachenko

According to the PBS report, the Russians also stole a statue of Russian imperial hero Gen. Alexander Suvorov and the bones of Prince Potemkin, the lover of Tsar Catherine the Great who founded Kherson and whose remains had remained at St. Catherine's Cathedral.

According to St. Catherine's Cathedral clergyman Father Ilya, this is linked to the Russian ideology that motivated the invasion of Ukraine in the first place.

"Their main aim is to restore the empire. And, for that, they use force, violence," Ilya told PBS. 

"They committed violence against those who live here in the name of those ideas of theirs and because of this imaginary connection with the past."

Art theft in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion

Allegations of Russian forces stealing Ukrainian art during the invasion are nothing new and have been around for months. Back in early April, just over a month since the war began, the Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate (GUR) said that there was enough stolen art and other property that Russian troops opened a bazaar in Belarus to trade and sell it all.

However, it isn't just Russians that are stealing art, and it isn't just old cultural artifacts that are being stolen.

Last Friday, Ukrainian authorities arrested a group of people in the town of Hostomel, northwest of Ukraine, for attempting to steal a mural made by Banksy on the wall of a building damaged by Russian shelling, CNN reported.

This work was more recently made, with the famed anonymous graffiti artist having come to Ukraine to make artwork in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Michael Starr contributed to this report.