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Mastermind of Kyiv Banksy removal could face years in jail

January 3, 2023

A man is suspected to have convinced a group of eight people to cut a Banksy artwork out of a wall. It was one of the murals the street artist created around heavily damaged areas in Kyiv.

The mural depicts a woman in a gas mask standing on a chair and holding a fire extinguisher, Hostomel, Kyiv Region, northern Ukraine.
The mural is among seven installed by Banksy in the Ukrainian capital last monthImage: Oleksandra Butova/ukrinform/abaca/picture alliance

The suspected mastermind behind the removal of a mural by graffiti artist Banksy in a Ukrainian town could face up to 12 years in prison if found guilty, Ukraine's interior ministry said on Monday.

The mural, which depicts a woman in a gas mask and dressing gown with a fire extinguisher in hand, had been painted on a yellow, battle-scarred wall in the town of Hostomel, northwest of the capital, Kyiv, at the beginning of December.

But a section of board and plaster of the mural was cut out shortly after it appeared. Ukrainian police arrested on December 2 eight people who were attempting to remove the artwork.

Ukrainian authorities have estimated the worth of the work at 9 million hryvnia ($243,900 / €231,700).

A man believed to have orchestrated the operation has been identified, according to Ukraine's Office of the Prosecutor General. He had reportedly persuaded several people to help him steal the mural, telling them he had relevant permits to dismantle the artwork.

What happened to the mural?

At the time, the group of eight was spotted in Hostomel, on the northwestern outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.

Police seized the mural at the scene and took it under their protection. The Ministry of Culture was summoned to determine its fate.

"These images are, after all, symbols of our struggle against the enemy ... We'll do everything to preserve these works of street art as a symbol of our victory," Kyiv Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a statement.

A damaged yellow wall
The wall in Hostomel after police took the Banksy muralImage: National Police of Kyiv region Andrii Nebytov via Telegram/Handout via REUTERS

Banksy in Kyiv

The renowned yet anonymous British artist's work can sell for millions of dollars, making him one of the most famous living street artists. 

He confirmed painting seven murals last month across Kyiv. He sought out areas battered by the heavy fighting since Russia's February invasion of Ukraine.

One mural painted on a badly damaged wall shows a girl doing a handstand over a piece of rubble. Another shows a little boy flipping a grown, black-belted man who seemingly resembles Russian President Vladimir Putin, known for his appreciation of martial arts.

Banksy's largely political art, distinctive for its stenciling technique, can be found all over the world, including in some conflict zones.

rmt/sms/eg (dpa, Reuters)

Update: First published to cover the attempted theft of the Banksy artwork on December 3, 2022, this article was updated on January 2, 2023 with new details about the case.