Russian gangs are stealing precious artefacts from Ukraine and smuggling them back across the border under direction from high-up officials, according to reports.
Digital technology experts have teamed up with international team of academics to track down thefts amid the raging scenes of war — and have already detected patterns in the crimes.
Scythian gold seems to be the main target of the looters. Scythia was once a region of central Eurasia around 2,000 years ago, and nomadic tribes produced stunning works of art, many depicting animals, with their gold jewellery now highly valued by museums.
Many treasures have been found at burial sites and the finds from the most important ones remain in the countries where they were found, including in Kyiv, namely at the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, the Institute of Archaeology, and the State Historical Archaeological Preserve.
The Melitopol Museum of Local History in Melitopol also holds some rare artefacts from that era.
Brian Daniels, an anthropologist working with archaeologists, historians and digital imaging specialists, told the Observer: “There is now very strong evidence this is a purposive Russian move, with specific paintings and ornaments targeted and taken out to Russia.
“These items are visually stunning, and there are now so many reports of thefts it is evident that it is a strategy. The Ukrainians, of course, are also very keen that we establish a list of stolen items.”
To stay up to date with all the latest news, make sure you sign up to one of our newsletters here.
Daniels admitted it was difficult to know if the monetary value was the most important factor for the Russians, or whether the objects were chosen for their cultural significance.
He went on: “There is a possibility it is all part of undermining the identity of Ukraine as a separate country by implying legitimate Russian ownership of all their exhibits.
“We have also growing concern for the museum workers and security staff, particularly when they find themselves behind Russian lines.”