Thieving Russian troops looted 14,000 paintings in one of the biggest art heists of all time as they fled Kherson

THIEVING Russian troops looted 14,000 paintings in one of the biggest art heists of all time.

They broke into the Kherson Art Museum and loaded lorries with the priceless treasures before they fled the city this month.

War crimes investigators are working round the clock to catalogue upwards of 14,000 thefts

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War crimes investigators are working round the clock to catalogue upwards of 14,000 theftsCredit: Chris Eades
Putin's loyal cronies were hired to steal thousands of paintings from across Europe in one of the biggest art heists of all time

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Putin’s loyal cronies were hired to steal thousands of paintings from across Europe in one of the biggest art heists of all timeCredit: AP

Museum director Alina Dotsenko, 72, said: “When I saw the empty rooms I nearly lost my mind. I have shed so many tears.

“We had 14,000 pieces, one of the biggest collections of art in Ukraine.

“There were paintings from England, Spain, Holland, all over Europe. You can’t put a price on what they have stolen. They are trying to steal our culture.”

Alina, who worked at the museum since 1977, had hidden the art in underground vaults but traitors revealed the locations.

She added: “Armed men came to the museum and demanded to be let in.

“Three were from the police and three from the FSB intelligence service.”

It took five days, from October 31 to November 4, for troops to fill lorries with stolen art and ship it to Simferopol, in Crimea, controlled by forces loyal to Vladimir Putin.

War crimes investigators are working round the clock to catalogue the thefts.

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Among the missing treasures is a 17th century portrait called Lady with Dog, by the Anglo-Dutch master Sir Peter Lely, chief painter to the court of King Charles II.

He was hailed as, “by far the most fashionable and influential painter of his time” by the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Troops also took statues of Russian generals from parks throughout the city.

Museum director Alina Dotsenko, 72, said: 'I have shed so many tears'

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Museum director Alina Dotsenko, 72, said: ‘I have shed so many tears’Credit: Chris Eades

They stole the remains of Prince Grigory Potemkin from a crypt beneath St Catherine’s Cathedral.

But they left a bust of Lenin and a nude statue in the art museum’s cellar.

The UN’s cultural agency said at least 200 historical sites had been damaged or destroyed since Russia invaded on February 24.

  • Additional reporting: Oleksii Kulyk

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