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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Accuses Hermitage Over Treasures

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ukraine's Ministry of Culture has said that the Hermitage Museum is illegally harboring Ukrainian art objects transferred to St. Petersburg for temporary safekeeping during World War II, according to museum officials.

But a Hermitage spokeswoman denied the charge, saying that museum documents prove the objects in question were returned to the Lvov and Odessa museums in Ukraine after the war.

"Many former U. S. S. R. republics feared for their art collections during the war and entrusted us with guarding them", said Hermitage spokeswoman Anna Lavrova. But she added that many objects "just got lost in the mayhem of the war" and that "certain gold objects have always been difficult to account for".

Ukrainian officials met with Hermitage director Mikhail Petrovsky on Wednesday to inspect documents which reportedly detail the return from 1926-1990 of nearly 17, 000 gold objects, works of applied art, and objects for daily use from the Scythian period, when southeast Euro-Asian tribes peopled what is now Ukraine.

But Lvov and Odessa culture officials say their museums do not have the valuable daggers, pottery and gold figurines nor any documents proving their return, according to Lavrova.

Lavrova said that the Hermitage could face a serious problem if former Soviet countries demand the return of art collections they believe to be theirs. In addition to the Ukrainian claim, she said Kazakhstan has also asked for the return of valuables although she had no details on that case.

"You can imagine what state the Hermitage would be in if we were legally obligated to return everything to its place of origin", she said.

In a recent, well-publicized case, the Parisian daughter of a St. Petersburg art connoisseur whose collection was "nationalized" after the 1917 Revolution brought a suit against the Hermitage over ownership of valuable impressionist and Cubist paintings on loan to a French museum. French courts ruled against the woman.

But Lavrova said she feared that Russia's lack of a clear policy on artworks that originated in the former republics of the Soviet Union and in other countries could encourage claims which could "rip apart" one of the world's greatest museum collections.