West’s museums will keep precious artifacts from Kiev, Moscow warns
Kiev plans to hand over priceless relics from the contested Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery to European museums, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has claimed. The Ukrainian government had ousted clerics of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the historic site earlier this year.
According to the SVR, various icons, chapel fixtures and relics from the lavra are to be sent to museums in Italy, France, Germany and Vatican City under the pretext that they must be protected from possible Russian missile strikes. In reality, neither the Ukrainian officials organizing the removal nor their European counterparts plan to return the religious and cultural treasures to Ukraine, the agency projected on Monday.
The scheme follows the same logic as the removal of Byzantine icons from Ukraine and their placement in the Louvre in Paris, SVR said, citing an ongoing exhibition in that flagship museum. Five pieces of religious art came from a museum in Kiev along with eleven other paintings in a secret relocation that cost over €200,000 ($218,000), according to French media reports earlier this month.
The SVR accused UNESCO, the UN education, culture and science agency, of providing cover for what Russia perceives as continued plunder of Ukraine by Western elites. The government in Kiev has already prepared lists of valuables and planned transportation for the operation, including refrigerated vehicles needed to preserve the items en route, the statement said.
The Ukrainian Culture Ministry previously ordered the monks and priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to vacate the Lavra complex in the capital, in what senior clerics called an act of persecution. The Kiev-endorsed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was given access to the site instead to hold services for its faithful.
This month, the OCU used the lavra to honor Ivan Mazepa, the cossack leader who betrayed Russian Tsar Peter the Great and sided with Sweden against Russia in the Great Northern War of the early 1700s. The oath breaker was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church, from which the UOC stems.
The service for Mazepa was initiated by the Culture Ministry and supported by UNESCO, which funded restoration work at the church hosting it, the Ukrainian government reported.