UK Thwarts Attempt to Sell Illegally Acquired Ukrainian Antiquities Online

The medieval items, temporarily on display at the British Museum, will eventually be returned to Kyiv

The medieval metalwork from Ukraine that is now on display at the British Museum
The medieval metalwork from Ukraine that is now on display at the British Museum.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

In recent years, there’s been an increasing level of attention paid to illegally obtained art, some of it looted during wartime, other pieces obtained by illicit means. Now, that narrative has intersected the war in Ukraine, and if you happen to be in London (or plan to visit sometime soon), you can see the place where the two converge at the British Museum.

The Art Newspaper‘s Martin Bailey reports that law enforcement seized a large number of Ukrainian antiquities when they were mailed to an address in the United Kingdom with the intention of selling them on the internet. Neither the means by which the antiquities were acquired nor the process used to import them were legal, hence law enforcement stepping in when they reached Gatwick Airport in July last year. The authorities plan to return them to Ukraine when it is safe to do so.

What are the pieces in question? Bailey writes that “the 86 recovered metalwork antiquities include pendant crosses, dating from the 11th to 14th centuries, which are local copies of Byzantine prototypes.”

Fedir Androshchuk, the director-general of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in Kyiv, said that this type of situation has taken place several times in recent years. “[O]bjects acquired by illicit metal detectorists in Ukraine were sold to private collectors in Russia, Germany and Britain,” he said.

For the time being, the seized antiquities are now on display at the British Museum. The Art Newspaper notes that they will displayed separately from the museum’s own collection of Ukrainian artifacts.

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