In late October, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared martial law in four occupied regions of Ukraine that the Kremlin claims are now part of Russia. That decree included language “legalizing” looting in the name of “preservation,” The Art Newspaper reported last week.
On November 9, Russia announced they would be pulling out of the city of Kherson, a crucial victory in Ukraines effort to take back the four territories that were illegally occupied by Russian forces on September 30. Russia still occupies, but does not have complete control of the large parts of the annexed regions: Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
Russia’s announcement sparked a night of celebration. The following morning, according to CNBC, the Ukrainian military began “stabilization measures” including “the removal of memorial plaques put up by the occupation authorities the Kremlin installed to run the Kherson region.”
Before retreating, the Russian troops looted countless works of art and historical artifacts from the Oleksiy Shovkunenko Kherson Art Museum them to Simferopol in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, according to The Art Newspaper. The looting was deemed “legal” by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, in late October signed a decree of martial law in the annexed regions.
Ukrainian media outlets have claimed since early in the war that Russian forces have removed valuable artifacts from the Shovkunenko Regional Art Museum, which specializes in fine and decorative arts from Ukraine and Russia and the Kherson Regional Museum, with the most valuable works have been pilfered back in May before Ukraine forced could muster a counterattack, according to The Art Newspaper.
Other suspected casualties of Russian pilfering include Soviet-era monuments in Kherson dedicated to General Aleksandr Suvorov, Admiral Fyodor Ushakov and Prince Grigory Potemkin, two heroes of the Russian imperial era, which have reportedly been dismantled and removed from their plinths. Potemkin’s monument isn’t the only slight to the Ukrainian’s memory of the Prince who was once a lover of Catherine the Great. Russian forces have also removed his mummified body from the Cathedral of St. Catherine and taken it to an undisclosed location.
A second decree signed by Putin around the same day as the martial law decree said that “special measures” would extend to regions beyond the four that were recently annexed, including several Russian regions that border Ukraine and Crimea.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture said on October 15, four days before Putin announced his decree, that “removing the most valuable objects from the museums of Crimea and other occupied territories was in blatant violation of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict,” according to The Art Newspaper.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture contacted UNESCO in the hopes of persuading Russia to comply with international law. However, given that Russia views the Ukrainian regions and Crime as part of Russia, it is unlikely the Putin or the Russian government believes it needs to comply with international treaties there.
Editor’s Note, Date: 11-14-2022. This post was updated after Russia announced it would retreat from the city of Kherson.