A modern day miracle happened this week as the Taras Shevchenko bronze statue that was stolen 10 years ago in Oakville has been successfully recovered:
A police investigation led nowhere and a $10,000 no-questions-asked reward went unclaimed.
As the years passed, the statue’s owners — the few volunteers who run the Taras H. Shevchenko Museum and Memorial Park Foundation on Bloor St. W. — had lost hope of ever again seeing the statue, worth an estimated $25,000.
But a remarkable coincidence, 10 years after the fact, has led to an unlikely reunion.
In November, the foundation received an email from a Hamilton antique dealer inquiring as to their interest in a statue he was trying to sell.
They opened the attached picture and there he was: Shevchenko, seated and scowling, as he had in Oakville’s Palermo Park for more than 50 years.
Three of the foundation’s staff excitedly drove to Hamilton to meet the dealer, Dan Rotko, and to see the statue with their own eyes.
“After 10 years, I couldn’t believe it!” recalls Bill Harasym, the foundation’s 87-year-old vice-president. “You could knock us over with a pin. . . . . It was like meeting an old friend again.”
Harasym and the other staff did not immediately reveal to Rotko they were the rightful owners — trying to learn more about how he had obtained the statue.
Rotko bought it a year earlier from a collector, who had picked it up at a flea market around the time it was stolen. Neither Rotko nor the other collector had any idea of its ill-gotten past.
RHarasym handed Rotko a cheque for $2,500, and explained to him how the statue was stolen.
otko couldn’t believe it. He refused the foundation’s money and said he is keeping the cheque as “a memento” of the fateful encounter.
“It was meant to be,” said Rotko, who is Ukrainian himself. “Call it fate or whatever . . . it’s a great coincidence that I get it and send them an email of the item that was stolen.”
Rotko stumbled upon the foundation’s website as he searched online for prospective buyers in the area.
When he described the story to his mother, Rotko said she told him she used to take him to the park to see the statue when he was a child. “She told me, ‘Don’t you dare cash that cheque!’ ”
The statue was a gift from the sculptor, Ivan Honchar, to Ukrainian-Canadians in 1951 to mark the 60th anniversary of the first wave of Ukrainian immigration to Canada.
It was only the first Shevchenko statue to be stolen from the foundation. A second, much larger statue was stolen from the same park in 2006. Two men were charged with theft, and the head of the statue was recovered (it’s currently on display in the Shevchenko museum). The bulk of the statue is believed to have been melted down or broken up and sold for its copper.