The attack of the Russian Federation on Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and the subsequent hostilities on the territory of Ukraine constitute the largest military conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. From the first days of the attack on Ukraine, the Russian armed forces have openly and extensively violated generally accepted laws and customs of war. Russian troops fire rockets, artillery, and other weapons, including prohibited weapons, at Ukrainian towns and villages, targeting civilian objects: hospitals, schools, universities and museums, houses, and cultural heritage sites. In the temporarily occupied territory of some regions of Ukraine, the Russian soldiers are killing, kidnapping and raping civilians, stealing and destroying public and private property, including agricultural products. The invaders also steal and export Ukrainian cultural property.
The Ukrainian cultural heritage has suffered the greatest blow since the conquest of Ukraine by Bolshevik Russia in the first half of the last century and the occupation of Ukraine by Nazi Germany during World War II. Despite the state of war, Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are obliged to investigate crimes against the national cultural heritage. Ukraine is a party to the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols. Art. 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine provides for criminal liability for looting of national valuables and other violations of laws and customs of war under international treaties, approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, as well as ordering such actions. Some vagueness in the wording of the features of this crime cannot impede the effective investigation of crimes against cultural heritage. At the same time, the importance of investigating crimes against Ukrainian cultural heritage encourages the improvement of the provision on criminal liability and its presentation in accordance with the provisions of Art. 15 of the Second Protocol to the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
The efforts of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to investigate crimes against cultural heritage deserve international support. The revealed instances of destruction of cultural heritage sites and illegal export of Ukrainian cultural property outside the state must be thoroughly analyzed. All available methods, including monitoring of social networks and specialized online auctions, should be used to investigate crimes against the national cultural heritage.