Russia’s culture minister, Olga Lyubimova, has been added to the United States Department of the Treasury’s latest list of high-profile Russians sanctioned due to Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.
The updated list was released on February 24, the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Treasury Department’s statement did not provde an explanation for Lyubimova’s inclusion, but stated that the sanctions aimed “to diminish Russia’s ability to continue its brutal war and to procure the resources used to support it”.
When Lyubimova was sanctioned by the European Union in December 2022, an EU statement read, “Under [Lyubimova’s] responsibility, the [Russian Culture] Ministry has extended both financial resources and programmed support to the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic.’” It charged her with being “indirectly involved with the destruction of Ukraine’s cultural heritage and artefacts, and for lack of efforts to protect the cultural heritage in the now annexed territories.”
Lyubimova, who succeeded Vladimir Medinsky as culture minister in 2020, is an outspoken supporter of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In widely publicized speeches, she has praised the “integration” of the illegally annexed Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine into the “cultural life” of Russia.
In an official address to mark February 23 as “Defender of the Fatherland Day”, Lyubimova said that “a whole layer of culture is being created, created by fighters and artists” who “give their art to soldiers, officers and their families, filling their hours of relaxation with beauty and joy”.
To date, at least 230 cultural sites across Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed, and more than 15,000 pieces of Ukrainian fine art and artifacts have been stolen in what international watchdog groups have called a systematic plunder of Ukrainian museums by Russian forces.
Nearly the entire collection of the Kherson Regional Art Museum was cleaned out by Russian forces, while in Melitopol, one of the first cities occupied in the invasion, a trove of Scythian gold was stolen from a local museum. Many of the stolen artworks – that have not already disappeared into the black market – are reportedly being stored in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula illegally annexed by Russian in 2014.