The similarities between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the early days of World War II have not been lost on the world at large, as experts and historians from around the globe continue to deliberate on just how much of the Kremlin’s playbook was stolen from the Third Reich.
The latest evidence of this horrid turn toward the worse parts of our shared history comes in the form of a massive heist in Ukraine that parallels much of the cultural dissolution of Hitler’s regime.
The looting of art at times of war dates back millennia, with the Greeks and Romans among the worst perpetrators. Museums and private collections around the world are filled with looted art that changed hands during conflicts. During World War II, a secret Allied army known as the “Monuments Men” worked to protect European treasures from being pilfered by invading armies—with mixed success. Hitler’s stolen treasures are still being discovered across Germany. Millions of stolen pieces may never be found.
So far there are no specially trained armies in Ukraine to protect treasures from the precision Russian art thieves working under the cover of war to empty museums and destroy important pieces of Ukraine’s cultural heritage. There are just brave museum curators in regions where the Russians have seized control doing everything they can to hide and fortify their art and antiquities, using supplies smuggled in from the West to help them crate up paintings and sandbag statues.
And it’s not just about the value therein, either.
Since Russia began its invasion in February, 250 cultural institutions have been targeted by Russian munitions. Thousands of important museums pieces have been destroyed during the bombing of Mariupol and elsewhere. In Melitopol, Scythian gold artifacts worth millions that date back to the fourth century B.C. were stolen from crates the museum had hidden them in.
The destruction of these pieces, both the historic and the artistic, is a sort of cultural genocide that seeks to erase Ukraine from the history books, and is a demoralizing crime against society itself.