• The museum's director said they hid the artifacts in a cellar amid the invasion
  • The museum's caretaker said a man in a white lab coat found the treasure with the help of a Ukrainian
  • The stolen items included flower ornaments and 300-year-old silver coins

Russian soldiers have been accused of stealing ancient artifacts from a museum in Ukraine, officials said.

During a national telethon in late April, Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov announced that Russian soldiers — whom he called “orcs” — stole a collection of Scythian gold from a local museum. The Scythian gold pieces were more than 2,300 years old.

Since the beginning of the war in February, Ukrainians have referred to the invading Russian soldiers as “orcs” after the fictionalized monstrous anthropoid characters from JRR Tolkien’s fantasy novel “The Lord of the Rings.”

“The orcs have taken hold of our Scythian gold. This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they took it, whether it was hidden or stolen. We don’t know about its fate, but of course this gold has been stolen from our community, and I hope that we will be able to get it back," Fedorov said, as translated by UKInform.

Leila Ibrahimova, the director of the Melitopol Museum of Local History, told the New York Times that museum workers had hidden the artifacts in boxes in a cellar. At the time, Russians were already shelling the city’s airport and smashing into stores and homes.

“We knew that any second someone could come into the museum with a weapon,” she said.

Ibrahimova later received a call from a caretaker at the museum saying Russian soldiers, along with intelligence officials and a man in a white lab coat, came to her house and ordered her, at gunpoint, to accompany them to the museum.

The caretaker refused to help the Russian soldiers. However, the man in the white coat found the boxes with the help of Evgeny Gorlachev, a Ukrainian who the Russians have appointed as the museum's new director.

In total, the Russians are reported to have stolen 198 gold items. The items include flower ornaments, gold plates, ancient weapons, 300-year-old silver coins and special medals. Many of the stolen artifacts were items given by the Greeks to the Scythians.

Apart from looting the museum in Melitopol, Ukrainian officials said Russian soldiers also stole at least 2,000 pieces of paintings, icons and sculptures from three museums in Mariupol.

“The occupiers ‘liberated’ Mariupol from its historical and cultural heritage,” the city council wrote in a Telegram post. “They stole and moved more than 2,000 unique exhibits from museums in Mariupol to Donetsk.”

Among the items taken was the Gospel of 1811 from the Venetian painting house for the Greeks of Mariupol.

Russian military troops take part in a military drill on Sernovodsky polygon close to the Chechnya border, some 260 km from south Russian city of Stavropol, on March 19, 2015. SERGEY VENYAVSKY/AFP via Getty Images