How Did Russia Lose 242,000 Museum Items?

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A woman walks in front of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg

REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

When it comes to museums, Russia didn’t know what it had until it was gone.

According to AOL News, a consultant to the Museums Department of Russia’s Ministry of Culture told workers 242,000 items were unaccounted for, though only 24,500 have been reported as stolen. The number was revealed after a three-year inspection of the country’s museums.

How could so many pieces be missing? Some might be temporary victims of disorganization, and will be accounted for when completing inventory. It’s difficult to keep track of every artifact, as Russia is home to 1,881 museums, with 63,000 employees and 73 million objects. Plus, Soviet policy had advocated sending big-ticket items to far-flung destinations, instead of keeping them contained in big cities.

Many items have certainly been stolen. A few years, ago, the Hermitage museum was at the center of a huge theft scandal, with one employee dying of a heart attack before receipts from her selling museum items were found.

In many other countries, the U.S. included, one major theft could lead to a museum’s demise. But for now, Russians will process the investigation’s results and use them to change their system, for good.