Ukrainian government still not returning stolen Dutch art

Painting Vrouw Wereld, by Jacob Waben

This picture shows part of the painting Vrouw Wereld, made by Dutch painter Jacob Waben in 1622. One of 24 ancient paintings (including work by, eg Jan van Goyen) and much silver, stolen in 2005 from the Westfries Museum in the Netherlands.

Dutch NOS TV scheme of the Ukrainian culprits in the Westfries Museum art robbery

This Dutch NOS TV scheme shows the network of the Ukrainian culprits in the Westfries Museum art robbery; like Oleh Yaroslavovych Tyahnybok of the neo-nazi Svoboda party; Valentyn Oleksandrovych Nalyvaichenko, until recently the boss of the Ukrainian secret police, now a right-wing member of parliament; and Borys Humeniuk, commander of the OUN extreme right paramilitary gang. This OUN has the same name as an organisation collaborating with Hitler during the nazi occupation, led by Stepan Bandera.

The Westfries Museum and the Dutch government asked the Ukrainian government to return the stolen art and arrest the culprits. However, for a long time nothing happened, as the suspects were part of the political establishment in Ukraine. After much pressure, including the referendum on 6 April 2016, in which nearly two-thirds of Dutch voters rejected the European Union-Ukraine trade deal, suddenly something did happen: it was said four of the 24 stolen paintings would be returned to the Netherlands.

Now, translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Yet no prospect of return of stolen art to Westfries Museum

Today, 10:15

The Westfries Museum still assumes that the five paintings that were stolen there more than ten years ago will come back. But when? That is the big question. “There is still no prospect,” says Christa van Hees, spokeswoman of the Westfries Museum.

She hoped that the paintings at the end of this summer would be back. The museum was and is still working on preparations for a festive return. But until all will really be ready, these plans have to be put on ice. The Ukrainian authorities threw a spanner in the works. “What we understand is that they want to set up their own research team to identify the owner.”

Complex case

Four of the total of 24 from the Westfries Museum stolen paintings were found in April by Ukrainian police during a secret operation. The fifth painting was delivered by a man at the Dutch Embassy in Kiev. “Then it was said that the paintings would be returned. It was indeed clear that the canvases were ours,” says Van Hees.

It turned out to be more complicated. After the find the [Dutch public] prosecution had to submit an official request for restitution, Van Hees explains. The museum also had to hand over all property deeds. “That happened, and now there is silence.”

However, the museum has hope that ultimately things will turn out all right. Van Hees: “They have always assured us that they endeavor to make them come back. It was always said things would be okay. But when? That is the question.” …

During the robbery in 2005 were also stolen 70 pieces of silverware in addition to the 24 paintings. But there is still no trace of these, says the spokeswoman of the museum. “In the first contact with the embassy in Kiev it was said that the people who had the paintings in their hands would also have the silverware. Since then we have seen no evidence of that,” she says.

“We were pleasantly surprised that the silverware would still exist, because we assumed that it would have been melted down. That way it is easier to sell. But if it still exists then it would be fantastic,” says Van Hees.

4 thoughts on “Ukrainian government still not returning stolen Dutch art

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