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Ukraine Recovers Paintings Stolen From Netherlands

FILE - A painting is seen on display at an art museum.

Ukrainian authorities have recovered four paintings that were stolen more than a decade ago from an art gallery in the Netherlands.

The paintings date back to the Netherlands' 17th century Golden Age and are part of a group of 24 works valued at more than $11 million. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said at a Thursday news conference the paintings had been “in the possession of criminal groups” at a villa in separatist-held area in eastern Ukraine.

"I hope today's success will help improve Ukraine's image in the future, particularly in the Netherlands," Klimkin said at a briefing with Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine Kees Klompenhouwer.

Ukraine's SBU State Security Service has been seeking to recover the missing art for four months. The first painting was recovered in early March and another was found in early April, with the final two being recovered Thursday, SBU chief Vasyl Hrytsak said.

Hrystak said the agency decided not to announce the first recoveries to avoid publicity while it still searched for the other two paintings. “Imagine what a trump we had in our hands that we could have played,” he added.

Of the 20 paintings still missing, Hrystak said some are known to be in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists, while others “might be in Russia.”

The paintings disappeared from the Westfries Museum in the city of Hoorn, north of Amsterdam, when thieves hid in the building before closing time on a winter evening and disabled the alarm system before making off with the artworks.

In December, the museum said two men from a Ukrainian nationalist militia approached the Dutch Embassy in Kyiv with photographs of one of the paintings and demanded millions of dollars to return it.

Ukrainian officials gave no other details about how the paintings were recovered.