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Ukraine Returns Stolen Italian Masterpieces To Verona Art Museum

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a ceremony handing over the Italian artwork in Kyiv

Ukraine returned 17 masterpieces valued at 17 million euros to Italy on December 21 after they were stolen by masked, armed robbers from a Verona art museum last year.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini traveled to Kyiv to retrieve the paintings -- which included works by Rubens, Tintoretto, Bellini, and Mantegna -- and said the paintings sustained only a few scratches.

"It was an ugly story that became a beautiful story," he said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko handed over the paintings to Franceschini in a ceremony in Kyiv.

The paintings were recovered in May by Ukrainian border guards who intercepted them on a small island on the Dniester River during an attempt to smuggle them into Moldova.

They were stolen by three armed robbers in November 2015 from the Castelvecchio Museum, where they will be displayed again after being restored.

A guard at the museum, Pasquale Silvestri Riccardi, was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison earlier this month. Five others were also convicted, including Riccardi's Moldovan girlfriend.

Two Moldovans are on trial in their home country for the thefts.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa