A GROUP of art thieves have stolen a rare Banksy mural in Ukraine by cutting it from a scorched building.
Eight people have been arrested over the theft of the graffiti artist‘s painting from a wall in a building in Kyiv’s suburbs.
The stencil image showed a woman wearing a gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel.
Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba shared a picture of the hole in the wall where the graffiti once stood.
He said: “A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural. They cut out the work from the wall of a house destroyed by the Russians.”
“Several people were detained on the spot.
“The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities.”
Other works in the area thought also to be the work of Banksy are under police protection, he added.
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebitov confirmed that “eight people had been identified” as possibly involved, and a preliminary inquiry had been opened into the matter.
“All were aged between 27 and 60 years old. They are residents of Kyiv and Cherkasy” some 200 km (120 miles) southeast of the capital, he said.
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It comes as last month Banksy unveiled a painting of a gymnast on the side of a tower block bombed by Russia.
He then posted a video of several more of his artworks, including the person in a gas mask holding the fire extinguisher.
Others included the portraits of a bearded man scrubbing up in a bathtub, and a young boy in a karate outfit slamming his adult opponent to the ground.
Rumours of Banksy’s arrival in Ukraine started swirling after a painting of a child throwing a man to the floor in a judo outfit was spotted on a building.
Photojournalist Ed Ram, who is in Ukraine working for photo agency Getty, snapped the image before Banksy confirmed he was in the country.
Ed said: “I wonder if it might be a Banksy or an imitation?
“Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was a black belt in judo, was removed from his position as honorary president of the International Judo Federation in May.”
The image was shared by Martyn Reed, an artist, who said: “It’s beginning to look like Banksy is in Ukraine.
“There was some debate when the first stencil appeared… expect to see more popping up in the coming days.”
A Banksy-style artwork also appeared in the nearby city of Irpin.
The image showed a woman in a leotard and a neck brace waving a ribbon.