The Yanukovych regime’s collection(s) of stolen art: where are the pieces from?

As I reported last month, illicit antiquities were found in the presidential residence of Viktor Yanukovych, Mezhyhirya, and in the attorney-general’s house. When cultural heritage workers inspected Yanukovych’s domestic collection (домашней коллекции Януковича), they also found ‘rare paintings that [had been] stolen from museums [редчайшие картины, которые были похищены в музеях]’ (video).

They included works by Armenian (Russian imperial) Crimean Romantic painter Ivan Aivazovsky (Hovhannes Aivazian), Russian Realist painter Ivan Shishkin and Spanish Cubist Pablo Picasso. The art recovered from Yanukovych is going to be exhibited at the National Art Museum of Ukraine (NAMU).

Experts believe that ‘there is even a picture that is worth six million dollars [есть даже картина, стоимость которой составляет шесть миллионов долларов]’ on its own. Ten other ‘paintings worth more than 28 million hryvnas ($2.9 million) [Картини, вартістю понад 28 млн.грн]’ have been returned to the Museum of Western and Oriental Art.(1)

So the total value of this state plunder must be (even more) massive. And it raises massive questions:

  1. From which museums (and other sites) are these artworks and antiquities? Were all of these historical relics (історичні реліквії) appropriated from Ukrainian institutions? Were some uncovered through looting and/or smuggled in by criminal networks?
  2. If collecting involved purchases of illicit antiquities, was the collection funded by the appropriation of public money or with the income from the other benefits of corrupt oligarchical rule?
  3. If it involved outright theft and trafficking, how much money was channeled into the hands of organised criminals, and was any of the money used to pay or fund armed groups (such as Titushki)?


1: the Museum of Western and Oriental Art is also known as the Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Art (Музей мистецтв імені Богдана та Варвари Ханенків).

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