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, according to activist Eskender Bariiev. Her whereabouts remain unknown, Bariiev said in a social media post on May 1.
Bariiev could not be immediately reached for additional comment.
The incident reportedly occurred after Kucher refused at gunpoint to reveal details of gold artifacts in the museum’s collection.
According to the New York Times, Russian forces found the works anyway with the help of the museum’s newly installed director, Evgeny Gorlachev. After apparently being released, Kucher was later abducted again from her home.
The soldiers also reportedly took a 2,300-year-old Scythian Empire golden artifact dated to the fourth century B.C.
“The orcs [a derogatory term for Russian soldiers] have taken our Scythian gold,” Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov said, acccording to the Ukrinform news outlet. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they took it.
Reports of looting have also emerged from museums in the heavily shelled down of Mariupol. More than 250 cultural institutions across Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed, according to Ukrainian officials cited by the New York Times.
Among the objects reportedly taken are works by the 19th-century artist Arkhip Kuindzhi, the renowned Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky, a unique handwritten Torah scroll, and the Gospel of 1811, which was made by a Venetian printing house for Greeks of Mariupol, according to the Mariupol City Council.
UNESCO said it is monitoring the situation closely and is in contact with Ukrainian authorities. It is partnering with United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to analyze satellite images of priority sites.
“The first challenge is to mark cultural heritage sites and monuments and recall their special status as protected areas under international law,” UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay said.
The organization has indefinitely postponed its World Heritage Committee meeting, originally scheduled to take place in Kazan, Russia, from June 19 to 30, amid protests from member states.