Novie Izvestiya. 15.03.2017. A week has passed since the International Center of the Roerichs (ICR) was searched. About 200 exhibits were taken from the museum. The siloviki* made a real pogrom in the ICR. The paintings were packed and transported with a large number of irregularities. The ICR employees were kept in the Center for almost 17 hours. The museum community is still silent.
The leadership of the International Center of the Roerichs does not have time to talk to journalists – it regularly takes part in court hearings. Over the period of 2015-2016, the ICR has passed more than 20 unscheduled inspections of various departments. So far the court still takes the side of the Center of the Roerichs.
Now the Museum of the East intends to evict the International Center of the Roerichs from the Lopukhins estate that ICR occupies. The ICR resists this with all its strength.
Most of all the leadership and employees of the ICR are now concerned about the fate of the paintings that were taken out on March 7. At the moment they are stored in the Museum of the East. However, according to the data available to the ICR staff, the storage does not comply with all necessary standards. With tears in their eyes, workers of the International Center of the Roerichs recall the searches that began at 10 am on March 7, and ended only at 5 am the next day.
“They kill me, help me!”
Alexander Prokhorychev, an employee of the Exhibition Department of the ICR, met with the police oficcers at home. Special staff of the Ministry of Internal Affairs came to take him to the museum.
Investigators lifted Alexander Prokhorychev from the bed, scared the whole family.
– At 7:20 am, officers began to knock at my apartment. My family and I were still sleeping. I was handed a summons that I should arrive by 9 am for investigative activities at Maly Znamensky Lane 3/5, at the museum address <NGO Museum of Roerich and ICR>. When I entered the museum, I saw about 70 armed people, representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, “Russian Guardia” <OMON> wearing masks, employees of the <State> Museum of the Oriental ART(SMOA), and Advisor to the Minister of Culture, Kirill Rybak.
I was surrounded by members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and taken aside. No one of the officers presented his documents to me, only one colonel showed his identity card. I was constantly threatened by promising to be arrested, to put in for 15 days. Then they forced me to sign a search warrant. I explained to them that I would not do this, because I am an ordinary employee.
I started shouting to my colleagues so that they did not sign anything. At once I was seized by the staff of “Russian Guardia”, my hands were twisted. I began to shout: “They kill me, help me!” After that I was dragged to our Department of Manuscripts. Everything was closed there, but they began to bang, to shout that they would now break the door open. Security guard, Alexander Sosnovsky opened the doors to them. I was put by a security guard to the wall with my hands up, the phones were taken away.
Further, in the Department of Manuscripts, Kirill Rybak was scampering along the tables of the staff, indicating what to take, what to describe. To my question on what the advisor of the Minister of Culture is doing here, the investigator Voronin said, that he was invited as a consultant. Then I asked: “So Kirill Rybak here acts as a consultant or detective? Let him then stand and look, and you’ll show him. Why is he so dominant here? “. But no one answered the question to me.
“We do not go to the toilet here”
Acting General Director of the Museum of Roerich, Natalia Cherkashina observed from the window of her office how about 70 people run into the territory of the ICR. Masked people run ahead.
Natalia Cherkashina with horror recalls searches in the museum:
– Two investigators came to me and presented a document for a search of the first floor of the administrative building. None of the burglars introduced themselves. They did not say a word about my rights. They walked, shouted, demanded that we open the museum. I got in touch with the vice-president of the ICR. He asked to wait for him for just 15 minutes. Then I frantically began to dial our lawyer’s number. She managed to explain to me that there must be a list of what they are going to withdraw. And if we do not want to issue documents and pictures on this list, only after that a search can be made. But I have not been shown any list.
I could not even go out into the lobby, because OMON officer was guarding the exit. I had no opportunity to communicate with anyone. Alexander Stetsenko was allowed only to his office, and only when the search of the office started. Later, I was finally allowed to leave my office.
I saw OMON officers in one of the halls of our museum, where the paintings hang; there are various exhibits, from which we are blowing dust off. OMON officers were sitting and eating something from the packs. Of course, I was horrified. I asked them: “Could you please eat elsewhere? Here is the museum”. In response, they smirked: “We do not go here to the toilet.” What else was there to talk about? It’s just a barbarity. Later they left all these packages, garbage, and dirt when they left.
“From the first blow of a sledgehammer the walls were shaken”
Security guard, Valery Nikiforov did not expect such a strong pressure.
The first person, who had to face the brute force of the riot police, was the guard, Valery Nikiforov. At that time he was the only person in the museum. Valery Nikiforov told the correspondent that he was forced to sign a resolution on the search.
– At about 9:40 there was knocking and screaming at the door. Threats were falling: “You obstruct the investigation, immediately open!” I tried to explain to them that I can not do this without the keepers of the museum, without the leadership. They did not listen to me; they all drummed with their feet and hands at the door. Then there was a silence. As it turned out later, they went for a saw. But they did not dare to use it. They brought a sledgehammer. The first blow – and the walls shook. After the second blow, when chips began to fly into me, I cried: “Enough, I’ll open, just do not break the door!” I thought, if now they will break the door completely, how we will then close it later.
About 20 masked men broke in. They surrounded me tight ring. Nobody spoke about my rights. They demanded me to sign the resolution. They said that I will be a witness. They pressed me. To make the story short, I signed that document.
From that moment until six o’clock in the morning, I was with the investigator, like a dog on a leash. I could not leave him. All my attempts to look at least in another hall of the museum, ended in threats.
“You have a sect here, not a museum”
An employee of the Exhibition Department of the ICR, Dmitry Ryakhin told the correspondent that the Roerich family memorial library was searched without any of the museum staff. The representatives of the Ministry of Culture and the SMOA behaved unceremoniously, withdrawing everything they wanted.
Dmitry Ryakhin explained to OMON how to behave in the museum.
– We were called criminals. The investigators openly said: “You have a sect here.” The feeling was that they came to arrest bandits. They communicated with us in non appropriate way. The operatives asked me: “Who are you? Do you take drugs? What do you have in your sect? “. They specifically came to look for a criminal.
OMON broke in with the words that there was a “gangster nest”, which must be exposed. And the representatives of the Ministry of Culture took all, what they wanted. The contract of gift was withdrawn from the ICR. Though the inventory was drawn up, but we were not allowed to verify the withdrawn documents with the inventory. Neither were we allowed to make any copies. For every attempt I made to reach out and explain that this was despotism, I was threatened with arrest.
Nobody considered our lawyer either. Here is an approximate dialogue that took place in the building department of the ICR:
– Who are you?
– I am an attorney for the ICR, Anna Razumovskaya.
– Where is your warrant?
– I gave it to one of your investigative teams?
– To whom you gave it?
– I did not remember the name.
– It’s clear. So write in the record – an unknown lady came to interfere with the investigation, she did not provide documents, she was removed from the investigative actions.
That’s where we ended up. We were deprived of all rights.
“There were so many people in the vault that I just could not keep track of everyone”
For the curator of the works of the Roerichs, Elena Kupchenko investigators came to her home early in the morning. Moreover, she was given a ruling that she did not come to the interrogations on the Master Bank case, so now she must be forcibly delivered. But Elena Kupchenko did not receive any summons earlier.
– Doorbell. The dogs barked. I already became anxious in my heart. They submitted a ruling. I explain to them that I haven’t seen any summons for the interrogation, and therefore I will not sign anything. Then they gave me a second order. I did not even read it. I dressed on and went with them, as it later turned out, to the museum.
More than 15 people were going to enter the depository. I insisted on limiting the number of people. In response, I was told that this is not my business, and “how much is needed, so many people will go”. After we opened the vault, I asked everyone to sign in, because this is the rule. Nobody cared about my remarks. Only one investigator recorded, stating that the rest will be recorded in the protocol.
People went into the depository in their clothes, with their bags and backpacks. Investigators pat and touched the objects. I explained to them that they could not do this. The answer was: “We do not know this”. People were constantly going into the vault. The door was open. No control.
I managed to take the jar and put all the keys to the cupboards in the jar. And so I was there, pressing the jar to my breast. When I was told the items, which they were going to remove, I opened a specific box and gave the items out. But it was impossible to follow everyone. They also violated the climate control in the vault. It was just barbarity.
“Pictures will be auctioned to return money to investors!?”
The first Deputy General Director of the Museum of Roerich, Pavel Zhuravikhin asked the police officers
not to break the doors to the museum, and to wait only 15 minutes until the vice-president of the ICR arrived. Nobody paid any attention on his request.
Pavel Zhuravikhin was one of the first to see the raiders coming to the ICR.
– No employees of the museum were present, and the raiders had already begun to work there. I went inside; a policeman in a mask was sitting in the place of guard. I saw the broken doors. Only a few hours later they allowed specialists of the museum to be present during the packaging of paintings.
Some of the paintings were already along the walls, in packages. In the next room two more people were turning the pictures. I told the investigator: “We will not sign anything, because we do not know what’s in the boxes”. Nobody was going to open the boxes for us.
Then a search began in my office. I had to leave. They also specifically made sure that the leadership was not in the museum during the search and packing. Three experts were in charge: Advisor to the Minister of Culture, Kirill Rybak, Deputy General Director of the SMOA, Tigran Mkrtychev and Dmitry Popov from the Roerich Museum in New York. They walked and indicated what they needed to take. In fact, the Museum of the Oriental Art was actually in charge. After all, Kirill Rybak is a former lawyer of the Museum of the Oriental Art, which worked together with Mkrtichev in the 2000s. And Dmitry Popov as well is a former employee of the same Museum.
It is wild tyranny and rampant vandalism. Do you know how the second batch of paintings was seized? Kyril Rybak says: “Let’s take more pictures.” I asked: “Where is the ruling?” The investigator immediately took out a blank form with a signature, filled it in by hand. “Here is the ruling and it’s ready”.
The search in our museum is such a frightening action for the whole of Russia, for the whole world. I asked the investigator what they were going to do with the pictures. He answered me: “Sell from an auction to return money to depositors.” I was horrified at his words. These pictures after 70 years have finally returned to the country, and now they want to sell again? It’s disaster.
And why the pictures are taken to the Museum of the Oriental Art? They do not have a normal repository. We have reliable information that there was just a warehouse arranged. Why the paintings were not taken to the Pushkin Museum, where there is a beautiful vault? Or in the Tretyakov Gallery, where there are about 100 other paintings of the Roerichs?
The pictures were packed with significant irregularities. Employees of the Museum of the Oriental Art and of the Ministry of Culture simply ignored these facts.
– “Some of the pictures are made in the tempera technique. These pictures can not be transported without glass. But they were carelessly taken out of the frames”, – Natalia Cherkashina told to the correspondent, – “And tanks (religious paintings) can not be rolled, in no case. One of the restorers, invited to search, spoke about this. But Mr. Mkrtychev said that they were written for this purpose, in order to wear them in a roll form. The paintings were transported in boxes, in cars without climate control. And now they are in the storehouse of the Museum of the Oriental Art, which doesn’t have necessary conditions. It is a catastrophe”.
The struggle for the Lopukhins’ estate
The museum continues to work. Even on March 8, after the searches, the staff conducted excursions. And a lot of visitors, who came to the museum, saw empty walls, empty frames on the places, where used to be paintings, which are now missing. With tears in their eyes, the museum staff told what had happened. The exhibition is refused to change – they are waiting for the return of the paintings.
Employees of the Museum of Roerich are sure that they will be raided again with searches. People are afraid that nothing will remain of the Roerichs’ heritage.
A formal cover for conducting searches was a criminal case against the head of the Master Bank, Boris Bulochnik, who was a patron of the ICR. According to the investigation, the paintings donated to the museum were purchased for money stolen from the bank. Boris Bulochnik is on the international wanted list.
However, the museum management does not understand why the raiders took away documents and pictures that have nothing to do with this criminal case. The investigation is interested in the period from 2010 to 2013. However, the documents withdrawn from the ICR are even from the 1990s. And the pictures were selected for the raiders taste and color.
By the way, on the day of the searches, on March 7 the Moscow Arbitration Court refused the Museum of the Oriental Art in the accelerated eviction of the ICR from the Lopukhins estate. The lawsuit continues, a new meeting is scheduled on March 20.
Vladimir Medinsky, Minister of Culture states that his staff participated only as experts during the searches <in ICR> and there is no question of any struggle for the Lopukhins’ estate.
However, the staff of the ICR is confident that attacks on the Center continue for precisely this reason. And under various pretexts they are sent to the inspectors from the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Justice, the tax authorities, and other departments.
Meanwhile, the ICR is working. But support is needed.
Employees hope that the museum community soon realizes that a search in the Museum of Roerich, the seizure of paintings is a dangerous precedent.
* Siloviki are members of security services police and armed forces.