Monitoring | Media reports |Saturday, 12 October, 2002 A giant exhibition of art and antiques accumulated in mysterious circumstances
by a private collector has recently gone onÂ tour in Ukraine - almost a decade after itsÂ owner died in obscurity.
Oleksandr Ilyin, who died in 1993, led a reclusive and apparently uneventful life in the provincial Ukrainian town of Kyrovohrad.
Â Mr Ilyin amassed 74,000 valuable artefacts
Â He earned a meagre salary as an electrician, went round in shabby overalls, had
Â no family and never socialised. But the enormous collection he assembled in secret
Â would put to shame many museums around the world, Ukrainian Novyy Kanal television
Â says. Antique furniture, ancient archaeological artefacts, 17th century jewellery,
Â paintings,Â statues, icons and books - a total of 74,000 items packed the humbleÂ
Â electrician's two-storey house to the rafters.
Â Nobody knows exactly how much the collection is worth, but the figure certainly runsÂ
Â into millions. After Mr Ilyin's death his hoard came into the possession of
Â KyrovohradÂ museumÂ Â which took six months to take stock of its windfall.
Â Portrait of the collector as a young man
Â The collection is currently on display in the city of Dnipropetrovsk. It includes one of the few surviving copies
Â of the Ostrog Bible, the first full Slavonic translation of the scripturesÂ Â printed in Ukraine in 1581.
Â Another book, on Byzantine enamels, was already worth a fortune when it was first published in 1892, and
Â is now valued at $2m (Ðˆ1.3m).
Â Also on display is a precious drinking vessel made in the 17th century by the famous Ukrainian goldsmith IvanÂ
Â Ravych as a gift to Peter the Great.
Â "Estimates putting the value of the collection at $40bn are greatly exaggerated, but its unique nature is beyondÂ
Â any doubt," the Kyrovohrad museum's director told Ukrainian Inter TV. Some of Mr Ilyin's neighbours suspected
Â there was more to him than met the eye, and in art collecting circles he Â was regarded as something of an
Â Â authority. But how he acquired his treasure is still a mystery.
Created for Peter the Great
Â Some say he was a descendant of a noble Russian family, the Rimsky-Korsakovs, and could have inherited
Â part of the collection from his mother. Others suggest he was a godfather of Soviet organised crime. The mostÂ
Â plausible explanation, however, is that Mr Ilyin was just taking care of the collection - much of it apparently
Â Â stolen from the Russian Orthodox Church - for the Soviet secret service.
Â Born in 1920, Ilyin was sentenced to three years for robbery in 1944. But he was suddenly released after
Â spending only four months in prison - the kind of lenient treatment accorded to very few people in Stalin's
Â Russia.Â Mr Ilyin's diaries suggest he worked for Lavrenti Beria, the infamous chief of the Soviet secret police,
Â andÂ frequently travelled throughout the country. His humble job was apparently a cover, which also gave him
Â a chance to prowl private homes in search of new pieces for his jealously guarded collection.
Â The Kyrovohrad museum director says some of the items were given to Ilyin - who was a talented artisan - by
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â unsuspecting art collectors and museums for restoration. He kept the originals, returning finely crafted fakes.
From rags to riches
The museum in Kyrovohrad has recently published a catalogue of the Ilyin collection. But the pieces now on tour in Ukraine constitute only
a fraction of the whole. The museum, which went from rags to riches literally overnight, says the collection is so big that it will take years
to authenticate all the items. More priceless treasures may yet turn up in the truck loads of antiques brought from Mr Ilyin's home.
But one thing is already certain: the sleepy Ukrainian outback of Kyrovohrad is now firmly on the cultural map of Europe.
Was this icon stolen from the Orthodox Church?