Spanish police announced the recovery of 11 pieces of Scythian gold jewelry valued at over $60 million that was stolen from Ukraine in 2016 and the arrest of five suspects including three Spaniards and two Ukrainians, one of whom was reportedly an Orthodox Church priest.
On Monday, Spain’s Policia Nacional unveiled the ancient golden jewelry it seized after thieves were caught trying to sell them in Madrid.
The artifacts are valued at more than $60 million and had been stolen from a museum in Ukraine and smuggled out of the country around 2016.
The haul included elaborate necklaces, bracelets and earrings, which police said dated from between the 8th and 4th centuries BCE, and were produced by the Scythians, a nomadic people who dominated parts of eastern Europe and Asia, including what is now southern Ukraine. They were renowned for their metalworking skills, particularly in producing elaborate gold jewelry.
Ukraine houses several collections of the artifacts, the most famous being held in a museum at Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery.
Investigations into the current seizure began in 2021 after a gold belt with rams’ heads was sold to a businessman in Madrid. The operation to trace and recover the items involved authorities in Ukraine as well as Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and North Macedonia.
The police not only recovered the items, which were accompanied by forged documents claiming the artifacts belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church but arrested five individuals – three Spanish and two Ukrainian, one apparently an Orthodox Church priest.
A Spanish police spokesperson said that the pieces were being studied by Spain’s National Archaeological Museum and added that “these are pieces that could not have been sold through the usual legal channels, such as auction houses.”
Only last week a Russian man was arrested after attempting to smuggle 14 archaeological items into the US. These were allegedly stolen from occupied areas of Ukraine and included various swords, and axes of different sizes originating from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages.
The archaeological items being recovered in the US. Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy
Concerns about the security of Ukrainian historical artifacts held in museums and religious sites in areas occupied by Russia, since the two invasions of 2014 and 2022, have long been a concern of not only Ukrainian but international authorities.
A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in 2017 that the “attacking of a country's culture is to attack its humanity. Historic monuments, works of art and archaeological sites – known as cultural property – are protected by the rules of war.”
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