The Kremlin’s involvement in the illicit trade of Ukraine’s heritage

The frontline of the Ukrainian war is but one battlefield, as the Russian agenda is to eradicate the history, and through it the identity of Ukrainians. The cultural genocide that Putin’s forces are enacting can only rival that of the actual genocide witnessed through the mass graves of in many liberated Ukrainian towns.

However, just as the war in Ukraine did not begin in February, the troubles of the catastrophic theft of Ukrainian heritage and destruction of history was began years before. During the HJS event titled “Selling Ukrainian Heritage: Russian involvement in the illicit trade of Ukraine’s past”, Dr Kyrylo Myzgin of the University of Warsaw identified the issue as circa two decades old, but certainly exacerbated by the 2014 events. The Russian backed forces in the Bombas [sic] provided a porous border through which the uncontrolled traffic of stolen Ukrainian heritage, whether through illegal metal detecting or theft from national collections poured out of the state.

Many an item of Ukraine’s past left via this route. In all likelihood the more famous cases, such as the Viking sword, captured on the Estonian-Russian border, since returned to Ukraine had gone out via that path. Many more cases, including numismatic collections and individual coins, bronze age and medieval objects and many others were mentioned by the event panellists, Lord Cormack, Dr Myzgin and myself.

There are, of course, more blatant examples of theft. These are the Russian attempts to steal the, so called, “Scythian Gold”, indeed the appropriation of the entirety of museum collection in Crimea and now the south of Ukraine.

As the Russians retreat under the weight of their own incompetency and corruption, they try to destroy all that does not fit with the Putinist narrative or steal it for themselves.

According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on October 14, 2022 ”In the temporarily occupied territory of the Ukrainian Crimea, the occupying authorities issued an order specifying the procedure for evacuating museums. In particular, internal (within the occupied region) and external (to the territory of the Russian federation) evacuation plans have been approved for the museums of the temporarily occupied region. Exhibits with the greatest material value are subject to priority evacuation”.

But as these items are of little use to Russians, per se, they inevitably try to sell them and do so through the markets of the UK, EU and the US. Indeed, the mentioned auction houses during the event, many of which make the top lists on any collector’s agenda, have had a hand in, wittingly or otherwise, assisting Russian aggression and, as mentioned by Dr Myzgin, the financing of the DNR.

The event closed on a high note, with Lord Cormack calling to set up a Lord’s debate on the issue.


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