Saturday, 30 April 2022

2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Russian Invaders Reportedly Remove Scythian Gold [UPDATED]


                               Photo Lviv.com news.                            
There are some very disturbing reports coming from areas of Ukraine currently occupied by troops of the Russian Federation. Just as Nazi invaders did in occupied Poland, within days of the occupation, officials turned up in museums and started taking away selected items. In the case of Ukraine (Jeffrey Gettleman and Oleksandr Chubko, 'Ukraine says Russia looted ancient gold artifacts from a museum' New York Times April 30, 2022),* part of the collection of the museum of occupied Melitopol (a city and municipality in Zaporizhzhia Oblast SE Ukraine) was taken away by armed men:

The heist started when a mysterious man in a white lab coat showed up at the museum. A squad of Russian soldiers stood behind him, with guns, watching eagerly. Using long tweezers and special gloves, the man in the white coat carefully extracted scores of special gold artifacts more than 2,300 years old from cardboard boxes in the cellar of a museum in Melitopol, a southern town in Russian-occupied territory, Ukrainian officials said. The gold items were from the Scythian empire and dated back to the fourth century B.C. Then the mysterious expert, the Russian soldiers and the gold disappeared. “The orcs have taken hold of our Scythian gold,” declared Melitopol’s mayor, Ivan Fyodorov [29.04.22 - PMB], using a derogatory term many Ukrainians reserve for Russian soldiers. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they took it.” [...]
For various reasons - which remain unclear (Melitopol was taken 1st March 2022) -  the gold items, together with a number of other especially important artefacts from the collection reportedly could not be removed from the city, so under Russian shelling and despite Russian troops rampaging in the streets, Leila Ibrahimova, the director of the Melitopol Museum of Local History and her staff made their way to the museum and secretly hid them in cardboard boxes, stashing the boxes in a corner of a cellar where they didn’t think anyone would find it.

In mid-March, Ms. Ibrahimova said Russian troops burst into her house 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 she left Melitopol for an area not under Russian control. But on Wednesday [27th April? PMB], she received a call from a [curator] at the museum. The [curator] said Russian soldiers, along with intelligence officers and a Russian-speaking man in a white lab coat, had come to her house in the morning and ordered her, at gunpoint, to go with them to the museum. They commanded her to take them to the Scythian gold. The [curator] refused, Ms. Ibrahimova said. [...] The [curator] who refused to help the Russians was released on Wednesday after the gold was stolen. But on Friday she was taken away from her house at gunpoint again, Ms. Ibrahimova said, shortly after the mayor, who is also in exile, announced the theft. She has not been heard from since.  

Galina Kucher, a curator
at the Melitopol Museum
of Local History
[UPDATE 5th May 2022: It seems from unconfirmed reports from social media we now know some more details about this second museum employee (A Second Worker at the Melitopol Museum of Local History in Ukraine Has Reportedly Been Abducted by Russian Soldiers Artnet news May 5th 2022):

A 60-year-old employee of the Melitopol Museum of Local History in Ukraine is reportedly the second worker from the museum to be kidnapped by Russian forces. Occupying soldiers, who abducted museum director Leila Ibrahimova from her home in March before returning her several hours later, have now taken Galina Andriivna Kucher [...] The incident reportedly occurred after Kucher refused at gunpoint to reveal details of gold artifacts in the museum’s collection.]
Despite the employees of the city's museum not revealing where these artefacts were stored for safety:
[T]he man in the white coat found the boxes anyway with the help of a Ukrainian, Evgeny Gorlachev, who was appointed by the Russian military as the museum’s new director [...] A Russian crew filmed part of the robbery [...] In an interview on Russian television, Mr. Gorlachev said the gold artifacts “are of great cultural value for the entire former Soviet Union” and that the previous administrators of the museum “spent a lot of effort and energy” to hide them. “For what purpose, no one knows,” he said. “But thanks to these people and the operational work carried out, residents of the city of Melitopol — and not only Melitopol — will be able to observe again a large collection of Scythian gold.” He did not say when or where the artifacts would be displayed.
Note that phrase "the former Soviet Union". It is unclear who Mr Gorlachev is and what connection he has with the Russian occupying forces. The Times journalists spoke to Ms. Ibrahimova by phone and report (not surprisingly) that she
sounded despondent as she spoke about the Russian invaders. “Maybe culture is the enemy for them,” she said. “They said that Ukraine has no state, no history. They just want to destroy our country. I hope they will not succeed.”
As do we all. 

The stolen items are reported to have been: "at least 198 Scythians gold items, including ornaments in the form of flowers; gold plates; rare old weapons; 300-year-old silver coins and medals". The gold artefacts were found during a 1954 archaeological dig of burial mounds in Melitopol.

   Melitopol Museum before the invasion

It should be noted that there are however conflicting reports about this. According to head of Regional Military Administration, "all of the most valuable [Scythian gold and other artefacts] were removed" from the Museum of Local Lore and Art Museum in Zaporizhzhia to relative safety elsewhere in Ukraine (Leopolis, 'В Запорізькій ОДА спростовують інформацію про викрадення росіянами скіфського золота', Lviv.com news 29.04.2022 ). 
"У Запорізькій військовій обласній адміністрації спростували  інформацію про те, що росіяни викрали унікальну колекцію скіфського золота IV сторіччя до н.е. з музею Мелітополя. Про це повідомив глава Запорізької обласної військової адміністрації Олександр Старух в ефірі телемарафону. За його словами, всі найцінніші речі вивезли з музеїв Запорізької області ще в березні 2022 року в інші регіони України. Раніше у проросійських пабліках з’явилося відео про те, як окупанти буцімто знайшли сховане працівниками музею золото та "врятували" його від вивезення за кордон. "Ми вивезли повністю з усіх музеїв все, що становило собою історико-культурну цінність. Що вони там врятували, удачі їм", – сказав Старух. Він також зазначив, що наразі триває друга хвиля евакуації менш цінних речей з музеїв регіону, а саме копій та муляжів. Нагадаємо, раніше в Запорізькій адміністрації повідомили, що росіяни захопили Мелітопольський міський краєзнавчий музей, де зберігалося скіфське золото, а колаборанти вказали їм місце, де воно знаходиться."

In other words:

"The Zaporizhzhya Regional Military Administration denied the information that the Russians had stolen a unique collection of Scythian gold from the 4th century BC. from the Museum of Melitopol. This was announced by the head of the Zaporozhye Regional Military Administration Alexander Starukh on a telethon. According to him, all the most valuable things were taken from the museums of the Zaporozhye region in March 2022 to other regions of Ukraine. Earlier, a video appeared in pro-Russian media about how the occupiers allegedly found the gold hidden by the museum staff and "saved" it from being taken abroad. "We have completely removed from all museums everything that was of historical and cultural value. What they saved there, good luck to them," - said Starukh. He also noted that the second wave of evacuation of less valuable items from museums in the region, namely copies and models, is underway. We will remind you that earlier in the Zaporozhye, administration reported that Russians seized the Melitopol city museum of local lore where Scythian gold was stored, and collaborators showed them a place where it is."

The information fog of war. While the Times journalists spoke to Ms. Ibrahimova, all the rest of that article could be based on the video that appeared in pro-Russian media about how the occupiers allegedly found the gold hidden by the museum staff and "saved" it from being taken abroad. This text suggests that this was a repeat of a rumour that had been spread earlier.  

Here is one of the videos, I suspect the guy in denim is the director appointed by the occupying forces:

Пропавшие экспонаты Мелитопольского краеведческого музея - найдены posted on YouTube by "Южный плацдарм" (sic) Apr 27, 2022.

As the Times notes, "For years now, Ukraine has been locked in a complicated dispute with Russia over collections of Scythian gold that several museums in Crimea had lent to a museum in Amsterdam. After Russia seized Crimea in 2014, Ukraine pleaded with the Amsterdam museum not to return the gold. Russia demanded the museum do just that. A court has ruled in Ukraine’s favour and the gold remains in Amsterdam". 


 *A version of this article by Gettleman and Chubko appeared in print on May 1, 2022, Section A, Page 12 of the New York edition with the headline: Brazen Heist At Museum Nets Russians Trove of Gold.

UPDATE UPDATE  6th May 2022

A later Times article (George Grylls, 'Russian troops are destroying ancient nomadic tombs', Wednesday May 04 2022) is very derivative from the Gettleman and Chubko text and adds nothing new to the Melitopol story.

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