“For what purpose, no one knows,” he said. “But thanks to these people and the operational work carried out, residents of the city of Melitopol — and not only Melitopol — will be able to observe again a large collection of Scythian gold.” He did not say when or where the artifacts would be displayed.
Ms. Ibrahimova, who spoke by phone, sounded despondent as she spoke about the Russian invaders.
“Maybe culture is the enemy for them,” she said. “They said that Ukraine has no state, no history. They just want to destroy our country. I hope they will not succeed.”
Scythian gold has enormous symbolic value in Ukraine. Other collections of the artifacts had been stored in vaults in the capital, Kyiv, before the war broke out. But Ms. Ibrahimova said events unfolded too fast for her museum to spirit out their collection.
For years now, Ukraine has been locked in a complicated dispute with Russia over collections of Scythian gold that several museums in Crimea had lent to a museum in Amsterdam. After Russia seized Crimea in 2014, Ukraine pleaded with the Amsterdam museum not to return the gold. Russia demanded the museum do just that. A court has ruled in Ukraine’s favor and the gold remains in Amsterdam.
But historians said the looting of the artifacts in Melitopol is an even more egregious attempt to appropriate, and perhaps destroy, Ukraine’s cultural heritage.
“The Russians are making a war without rules,” said Oleksandr Symonenko, a fellow of Ukraine’s Archaeology Institute and a Scythian specialist. “This is not a war. It is destroying our life, our nature, our culture, our industry, everything. This is a crime.”
The caretaker who refused to help the Russians was released on Wednesday after the gold was stolen. But on Friday she was taken away from her house at gunpoint again, Ms. Ibrahimova said, shortly after the mayor, who is also in exile, announced the theft.
She has not been heard from since.