Russian troops seize art from Mariupol museums, city council says

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“They stole and moved more than 2,000 unique exhibits from Mariupol museums to Donetsk”

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Ukrainian officials said Russian forces seized more than 2,000 works of art from the beleaguered port city of Mariupol. They were taken to Donetsk, under Russian occupation, local channel TV7 reported.

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The Mariupol City Council wrote in a Telegram message on Thursday that Russian forces have attacked the three local museums, including the Kuindzhi Art Museum, since the start of the invasion.

“The occupiers have ‘liberated’ Mariupol from its historical and cultural heritage,” the city council wrote. “They stole and moved more than 2,000 unique exhibits from Mariupol museums to Donetsk.”

Among the works taken were the Venetian Printing House’s 1811 Gospel for the Greeks of Mariupol, three works by 19th-century artist Arkhip Kuindzhi and others by famous Russian Romantic painter Ivan Aivazovsky.

The Kuindzhi Art Museum, named after the Mariupol native, was badly damaged in a Russian airstrike on March 20, according to Konstantin Chernavski, president of the Ukrainian Union of Artists.

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The three original works from the Kuindzhi museum – Red Sunset, Elbrus and Autumn, Crimea – were not in the museum at the time of the March strike but had been moved to a secret location, according to Chernavski.

But this week the director of another Mariupol museum – the Local History Museum – handed over the images to Russian forces, said Petro Andriushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol. “Natalia Kapustnikova, who knew the exact place of secret storage of masterpieces, personally passed everything from hand to hand,” he said on Telegram.

According to Russian media, museum staff had “saved” the paintings from damage caused by Ukrainian fighters. “I knew where the hiding place was,” Kapustnikova told Izvestia TV. “When the fighting ended, we went to see where it was… As soon as possible, everything was removed.”

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Kuindzhi’s paintings are part of the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The looting of art treasures has a long and disreputable history, dating back to the campaigns of Greek, Persian and Roman armies in ancient times. It was prevalent during World War II, when German forces stole masterpieces from occupied France, Poland and other countries, in addition to confiscating works of art belonging to Jews. Works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Chagall, Matisse and many others ended up in German hands. Restitution efforts continue as lost works come to light decades later.

Vowing to regain much of its cultural heritage, the city council wrote that it was preparing material “for law enforcement to pursue criminal charges and appeal to Interpol”.

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