Kyiv, Ukraine – The robbery began when a mysterious man in a white lab coat appeared in the museum.
A group of Russian soldiers stood behind him with rifles watching eagerly.
Ukrainian officials said the man in the white coat carefully extracted dozens of special gold artifacts dating back more than 2,300 years from cardboard boxes in the basement of a museum in Melitopol, a southern town in Russian-occupied territory, using long tweezers and special gloves. The gold coins were from the Scythian Empire and date back to the 4th century BC
Then the mysterious expert Russian soldiers and gold disappeared.
“Our Scythian gold has been possessed by the orcs,” The Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fyodorov, announced, Using a derogatory term, many Ukrainians keep Russian soldiers. “This is one of the largest and most expensive groups in Ukraine, and today we do not know where they took it.”
This was not the first attack on Ukrainian culture since the start of the war.
at MariupolThe town was ravaged by Russian forces for weeks, officials said, Russian agents stormed an art museum and stole wonderful paintings, a famous sculpture and many valuable Christian icons.
Officials said dozens of Orthodox churches, national monuments and cultural heritage sites across Ukraine have been destroyed. In a town near Kyiv, Borodianka, Russian soldiers shot a bust of a famous Ukrainian poet in the head.
Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that more than 250 cultural institutions have been damaged or destroyed.
But perhaps there was no brazen cultural theft like what happened in Melitopol just a few days ago.
According to Leyla Ibrahimova, director of the Melitopol Museum of Local History, the unrest began in late February, when Russian forces bombed the airport and captured the city. Soldiers went on a rampage, storming supermarkets, shops and homes.
Most of the city’s residents hid inside their homes. But a few museum workers, including Mrs. Ibrahimova, have returned to the museum.
It’s an elegant three-story stone building in the old part of town, which is home to 50,000 exhibits, from Soviet-era medals to old battle axes. But her precious collection was a collection of rare gold ornaments from Scythiansa Bedouin people who founded a rich and powerful empire, centered in the Crimea, lasting from about the eighth century BC to the second century AD
Scythian gold was what Ms. Ibrahimova was most concerned about.
She and other employees secretly stashed them and some other historical artifacts in cardboard boxes, and placed the boxes in a damp vault where they didn’t think anyone would find them.
“We knew anyone else could come into the museum with a weapon,” she said. So they worked quickly, she said, because “the collection is invaluable.”
In mid-March, Ms. Ibrahimova said that Russian forces stormed her home with assault rifles, threw a black hood over her head and kidnapped her. After several hours of intense questioning, they let her go. Two weeks later I left Melitopol for an area not under Russian control.
But on Wednesday she received a call from the museum’s curator. The caretaker said that Russian soldiers, along with intelligence officers and a Russian-speaking man in a white lab coat, came to her house in the morning and ordered her, at gunpoint, to go with them to the museum.
They ordered her to take them to the studded gold.
Ibrahimova said the guard refused. She said the man in the white coat found the boxes anyway with the help of Ukrainian Evgeny Gorlachev, who was appointed by the Russian military as the museum’s new director. A Russian crew filmed part of the robbery.
“We hid everything but somehow they found it,” she said.
Stolen: no less than 198 gold pieces, including flower-shaped ornaments; gold plates rare ancient weapons 300 year old silver coins; and special medals. She said that many gold artifacts were given by the Greeks to the Scythians.
In an interview with Russian television, Mr. Gorlachev said the gold artifacts were “of great cultural value to the entire former Soviet Union” and that former museum directors “spent a lot of effort and effort” to hide them.
“For what purpose,” he said, “no one knows.” “But thanks to these people and the operational work that has been done, the people of Melitopol – and not just Melitopol – will be able to see a large pool of studded gold again.” He did not say when or where the artifacts were displayed.
Mrs. Ibrahimova, speaking on the phone, seemed desperate as she spoke of the Russian invaders.
“Maybe culture is the enemy for them,” she said. They said that Ukraine has neither a state nor a history. They just want to destroy our country. I hope they don’t succeed.”
Scythian gold has enormous symbolic value in Ukraine. Other collections of artifacts were stored in vaults in the capital, Kyiv, before the outbreak of the war. But Ms. Ibrahimova said events erupted too quickly for her museum to feature her collection.
Years ago, Ukraine was closed in a complex dispute With Russia regarding collections of Scythian gold loaned by several museums in the Crimea to a museum in Amsterdam. After Russia seized Crimea in 2014, Ukraine appealed to the Amsterdam Museum not to return the gold. Russia has asked the museum to do so. A court ruled in favor of Ukraine and the gold remained in Amsterdam.
But historians have said that the looting of Melitopol artifacts is an even more terrible attempt to seize, and possibly destroy, the cultural heritage of Ukraine.
“The Russians are fighting a war without rules,” said Oleksandr Simonenko, a fellow at the Ukrainian Archaeological Institute who specializes in the Scythians. This is not a war. It destroys our lives, our nature, our culture, our industry, everything. This is a crime.”
The guard, who refused to help the Russians, was released on Wednesday after the gold was stolen. But Ms Ibrahimova said she was taken from her home at gunpoint on Friday again, shortly after the mayor, also in exile, announced the theft.
Nothing has been heard from her since.