Sunday 02 October 2022

Stolen Frisian artworks ‘held to ransom’ by Ukrainian militia

Vrouw Wereld by Jacob Waben, one of 24 artworks stolen from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn and held by a militia group in UkraineHigh-ranking Ukrainian politicians are trying to extract ransom money from the Dutch government in exchange for paintings stolen 10 years ago from a museum, it has been claimed.

The 24 artworks went missing from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, Friesland in January 2005. Their whereabouts was not publicly known until curator Ad Geerdink told the Telegraaf they had fallen into the hands of an ultra-nationalist militia group.

‘Our collection is in the hands of corrupt people who go right up to the top of Ukrainian politics,’ he said. ‘They are refusing to return the pictures and only want one thing: to earn hard cash at the expense of our cultural heritage.’

Art theft investigators Arthur Brand and Alex Omhoff told the newspaper that Ukraine’s secret services were also involved in the plot. Brand told broadcaster Nos he had met the leader of the far-right militia but was unable to reach an agreement.


The warlord contacted the Dutch embassy in Kiev during the summer to try to negotiate a price for the works.

Foreign affairs minister Bert Koenders said his department had made contact with his Ukrainian counterpart and the country’s president Petro Poroschenko. ‘We’ve said we need their help badly,’ Koenders told NOS. ‘It’s a very bad business if they’re over there: they need to come back.’

Experts say the stolen artworks could be worth as much as €50 million and include paintings by Golden Age artists Jan van Goyen and Hendrik Bogaert. Geerdink also made a public appeal in English for the paintings to be returned.

The paintings are ‘part of our history and our cultural heritage and they belong here,’ he said.

Memento Mori by Herman Henstenburg, one of the 24 paintings stolen from the Westfries Museum and said to be held by an Ukrainian militia.

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