The magnificent golden tiara, encrusted with precious stones by master craftsmen about 1,500 years ago, was one of the world’s most valuable artifacts of Attila the Hun, the blood queen who invaded Europe with horse warriors in the 5th century.
Hun’s tiara has now disappeared from the Ukrainian museum where it was housed, perhaps, historians fear, forever. Russian troops took the priceless crown and a host of other treasures after taking the Ukrainian city of Melitopol in February, museum officials say.
The Russian invasion of UkraineNow in its eighth month, it is accompanied by industrial scale destruction and theft of historic sites and treasures, Ukrainian authorities say.
In an interview with The Associated Press, from Ukraine The culture minister said that Russian soldiers helped make artifacts in almost 40 museums in Ukraine. Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko added that the looting and destruction of cultural sites has caused losses estimated at hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).
“The attitude of the Russians towards Ukrainian cultural heritage is a war crime,” he said.
At the moment, they are mostly focused on defeating the Ukrainian government and the Western backers who supply them with weapons. Russia on the battlefield But when peace returns, preserving Ukraine’s collections of art, history and culture will also be essential, so survivors of the war can begin their next struggle: rebuilding their lives.
“These are museums, historical buildings, churches. Everything was built and created by generations of Ukrainians,” said Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, when she visited a Ukrainian museum in New York in September. “This is a war against our identity.”
Employees of the Local History Museum in Melitopol first tried to hide the Hun diadem and hundreds of other treasures when Russian troops attacked the southern city. But after weeks of repeated searches, Russian soldiers finally discovered the building’s secret basement, where workers removed the museum’s most prized objects — including Hun’s diadem, according to a museum worker.
The worker, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity out of fear of Russian punishment for discussing the facts, says Ukrainians do not know where Russian troops took the tiara and 1,700 other artifacts.
Unearthed from a burial chamber in 1948, the crown is one of only a handful of Hun crowns in the world. Among the other treasures that disappeared with the Russian soldiers, the museum worker said, were 198 gold pieces from the 2,400-year-old period of the Scythians, nomads who migrated from Central Asia to southern Russia and Ukraine and created an empire in Crimea.
“They are ancient finds. They are works of art. They are priceless,” said Oleksandr Symonenko, chief researcher at the Institute of Archeology of Ukraine. “If culture disappears, the disaster is irreparable.”
The Russian Ministry of Culture did not respond to questions about the Melitopol collection.
Russian forces looted museums and laid waste to the Black Sea port of Mariupol in the southern city, which has been battered by Russian bombing, according to Ukrainian officials. It only came under Moscow’s full control in May when Ukrainian defenders clinging to the city’s steelworks finally surrendered.
President Joe Biden spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday.
The exiled municipality of Mariupol said Russian forces stole more than 2,000 items 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 medals, the council said.
Works by Mariupol-born Arkhip Kuindzhi and Crimean painters Ivan Aivazovsky, both famous for their seascapes, were also looted, councilors in exile said. Russian troops were said to have taken the stolen money to the Russian-occupied Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
The invasion has caused great damage and destruction to Ukraine’s cultural heritage. The UN cultural agency is counting the areas hit by missiles, bombs and shells. As the war enters its eighth month, the agency says it has verified damage in 199 sites in 12 regions.
84 churches and other religious sites, 37 buildings of historical importance, 37 buildings for cultural activities, 18 monuments, 13 museums and 10 libraries, according to UNESCO.
Ukrainian government figures are even higher, with officials saying the number of destroyed and damaged religious buildings reaches at least 270.
While the invading forces searched for treasures to steal, Ukrainian museum workers did what they could to keep them out of Russian hands. Tens of thousands of elements have been evacuated from the front lines and from the regions affected by the battle.
In Kiev, the director of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine lived in the building, guarding its artifacts, when Russian forces unsuccessfully tried to encircle the capital in the first weeks of the invasion.
“We were afraid of the Russian occupiers, because they destroy everything that can be identified as Ukrainian,” recalls director Natalia Panchenko.
Fearing that Russian troops would attack the city, he tried to confuse them by removing the museum’s entrance plaque. He also dismantled the exhibits, carefully packing the artifacts into evacuation boxes.
One day, he hopes, they will return to where they belong. For now, the museum only displays copies.
“These things were fragile, surviving for hundreds of years,” he said. “We couldn’t bear to think they might be lost.”