The ringleader of a group who attempted to steal one of seven works created by the street artist Banksy on buildings across war-torn Ukraine last year faces up to 12 years in prison.
Ukrainian police said in a statement on 2 January that the investigation of suspects detained on 2 December for cutting down a mural of a woman in a gas mask in Hostomel, a Kyiv suburb, determined that the artwork was worth more than $245,000 (9 million Ukrainian hryvnia). Hostomel was the site of one of the earliest battles between Ukraine and invading Russian forces, which ended with Russia's retreat last April.
Although police did not name the suspected ringleader, providing only a photograph with his face blanked out, it is likely that he is Serhiy Dovhyi, a Kyiv-based environmental activist. Dovhyi identified himself as the organiser of the attempted theft to the New York Times last month. He told the Ukrainian news website Graty that he had planned to auction Banksy’s work to buy approximately 40 vehicles for the Ukrainian military.
"I would write to Sotheby's," he said, because of their experience in selling works by Banksy. "If they said: ‘Who are you?’, then I would write to some smaller auction [house]."
Dovhyi, who says he was saving the work from the scheduled demolition of the building, also explained why he brought cameramen along to film the removal of the mural on 2 December. "I thought in the film to apologise to Banksy. To say that if it were not for the war, I would not do this," he said. "Any person who understands street art will say that the dismantling of graffiti is also an art event," he added.
According to Graty, one day before Dovhyi came to cut down the mural, the Hostomel local council had registered it as a cultural monument. The report also describes efforts to preserve Banksy’s other Ukraine murals.
The suspected crime is, according to Ukrainian police, theft of property on a large scale or by an organised group, punishable by a term of seven to 12 years in prison.