Exhibition of Ukrainian treasures seized in Estonia opens at UNESCO headquarters

  • 2024-05-27
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - On Monday, a poster and photo exhibition titled "Looted Treasures. Gold from Ukraine" was opened at the UNESCO headquarters, timed to coincide with a meeting of the convention against the illicit trafficking of cultural property and showcasing the story of valuables seized at the Estonian border and returned to Ukraine.

At a ceremony on Jan. 23, Estonian Culture Minister Heidy Purga handed over archaeological finds, confiscated at the Luhamaa border checkpoint in 2018, to Ukraine's Ambassador to Estonia Maksym Kononenko.

In 2018, customs officers Kaia Nolvik and Avo Kutt at the Luhamaa border checkpoint discovered artifacts of high cultural value hidden in a truck that had entered from Russia -- a total of 274 items, including coins from antiquity and the Middle Ages, as well as gold and silver items. After the artifacts were detained, evaluated, and conserved, it was determined that the rare findings had been looted from different archaeological sites situated in eastern and southern parts of Ukraine.

Among the returned artifacts are gold items of the Scythians who lived in the areas of southern Ukraine in ancient times, medieval horse ornaments, and ancient and medieval coins. The case led to a criminal investigation, and in January, Estonia was ready to return the finds to Ukraine in accordance with the 1970 UNESCO convention.

The international black market for cultural property is one of the largest illegal markets in the world, alongside drugs, weapons, and human trafficking. During wartime, the looting of museums and archaeological sites and the trafficking of artifacts intensifies.

Both Estonia and Ukraine have joined the UNESCO convention prohibiting the illicit import, export, and trafficking of cultural property. Under the same convention, Estonia returned an illegally imported Viking-age sword to Ukraine in 2016.