Ukraine’s culture minister says that Russian soldiers have stolen artefacts in almost 40 museums in the country.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Oleksandr Tkachenko said the looting and destruction of cultural sites during the war had caused losses estimated in the hundreds of millions of euros.
“The attitude of Russians toward Ukrainian culture heritage is a war crime,” he told the news agency.
And the losses are not just financial.
Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, said during a visit to a Ukrainian museum in New York last month: “These are museums, historical buildings, churches.
“Everything that was built and created by generations of Ukrainians.
“This is a war against our identity.”
UNESCO says it has verified damage to 199 cultural sites in 12 regions, including 84 religious sites, 37 buildings of historic importance, 37 buildings for cultural activities, 18 monuments, 13 museums, and 10 libraries.
Ukrainian authorities say their count puts the number of damaged religious buildings alone at 270.
Museum workers packed away and evacuated tens of thousands of priceless historical items early in the war, but their efforts did not always guarantee the treasures were kept safe.
In Kyiv, the director of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine Natalia Panchenko lived in the building to watch over its treasures early in the war, when the Russian forces were trying to encircle the capital.
“We were afraid of the Russian occupiers, because they destroy everything that can be identified as Ukrainian,” she said.
“These things were fragile, they survived hundreds of years.
“We couldn’t stand the thought they could be lost.”
In Melitopol, captured by Russia in February, workers at the Museum Of Local History tried to hide the Hun Diadem along with hundreds of other artefacts.
The Hum Diadem is a golden tiara inlaid with precious stones by master craftsmen 1,500 years ago.
But Russian soldiers searched for weeks before finding the building’s secret basement and taking it and the other items away, a museum worker told AP.
They are now gone, possibly forever.
The museum worker said that other treasures taken by Russian soldiers included 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 founded an empire in Crimea.