The exquisite golden tiara, encrusted with precious stones by master craftsmen some 1,500 years ago, was one of the world’s most valuable artifacts from the bloody rule of Attila the Hun, who rampaged with mounted warriors into the depths of Europe in the 5th century. .
The Hun headband is now disappeared of the museum in the Ukraine that housed it, perhaps, historians fear, forever. LRussian troops took the priceless crown and a treasure of other treasures after capturing the Ukrainian city of Melitopol in February, museum officials say.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its eighth month, is being accompanied by the destruction and looting of historic sites and treasures on an industrial scale, Ukrainian authorities say.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture argued that Russian soldiers stole pieces from 40 Ukrainian museums. Looting and destruction of cultural sites has caused losses estimated at hundreds of millions of dollarsadded the minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko.
“The attitude of the Russians towards the Ukrainian cultural heritage is a war crime“, said.
At the moment, the Ukrainian government and its Western arms-supplying backers are primarily focused on defeating Russia on the battlefield. But if and when peace returns, the preservation of Ukraine’s collections of art, history and culture will also be vital, so that war survivors can begin the next fight: rebuilding their lives.
“These are museums, historical buildings, churches. All that was built and created by generations of Ukrainians,” Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska said in September when she visited a Ukrainian museum in New York. “This is a war against our identity.”
Workers at the Museum of Local History in Melitopol first tried to hide the Hun diadem and hundreds of other treasures when Russian troops stormed the southern city. But after weeks of repeated searches, Russian soldiers finally discovered the building’s secret basement where staff had hidden the museum’s most precious objects, including the Hun diadem, according to a museum worker.
The worker, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, fearing Russian punishment for even discussing the events, said that the Ukrainians do not know where the Russian troops took the loot, which included the tiara and 1,700 other artifacts.
Unearthed from a burial chamber in 1948, the crown is one of only a few Hun crowns in the world. The museum worker said other treasures that went missing with the Russian soldiers include 198 2,400-year-old gold pieces from the era of the Scythians, nomads who migrated from Central Asia to southern Russia and Ukraine and founded an empire in Crimea.
“These are ancient finds. These are works of art. They are priceless,” said Oleksandr Symonenko, chief researcher at the Ukrainian Institute of Archaeology. “If the culture disappears, it is an irreparable disaster.”
The Russian Ministry of Culture did not respond to questions about the Melitopol collection.
Russian forces also looted museums as they razed the port of Mariupol, on the Black Sea, according to Ukrainian officials who were expelled from the southern city, which was hit relentlessly by Russian bombardment. It fell under full Moscow control only in May, when the Ukrainian defenders holding on to the city’s steelworks finally surrendered.
The exiled city council of Mariupol said Russian forces more than 2,000 items were stolen from the city’s museums. Among the most prized items were ancient religious icons, a unique handwritten Torah scroll, a 200-year-old Bible, and more than 200 medalssaid the council.
Artwork by Mariupol-born painters Arkhip Kuindzhi and Crimean-born Ivan Aivazovsky, both famous for their seascapes, were also looted, the exiled councilors said. They said Russian troops took their stolen bounty to the Russian-occupied Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
The invasion has also caused extensive damage and destruction to Ukraine’s cultural heritage. The UN cultural agency is keeping a count of the sites that were hit by missiles, bombs and shelling. With the war now in its eighth month, the agency says it has verified damage to 199 sites in 12 regions.
include 84 churches and other religious sites, 37 buildings of historical importance, 37 buildings for cultural activities, 18 monuments, 13 museums and 10 libraries, UNESCO says.
Ukrainian government counts are even higher, with authorities saying his count of religious buildings destroyed and damaged alone is at least 270.
As the invasion forces searched for treasures to steal, Ukrainian museum workers did what they could to keep them out of Russian hands. Tens of thousands of items have been evacuated away from front lines and combat-torn regions.
In kyiv, the director of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine lived in the building, guarding its artifacts, during the first weeks of the invasion, when Russian forces tried unsuccessfully to encircle the capital.
“We were afraid of the Russian occupiers, because they destroy everything that can be identified as Ukrainian,” recalled the director, Natalia Panchenko.
Fearing that Russian troops would storm the city, he tried to confuse them by knocking down the plaque at the entrance to the museum. He also dismantled the exhibits, carefully packing the artifacts into boxes for disposal.
One day, wait, they will return to their rightful place. For now, the museum is only displaying copies.
“These things were fragile, they survived hundreds of years,” he said. “We couldn’t bear the thought that they might be lost.”
(with information from AP)
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