Ancient Ukrainian Treasures Returned After Decade-Long Legal Battle

A historic collection of ancient treasures, consisting of 565 items including Scythian and Sarmatian jewelry, sculptures, bronze swords, golden helmets, and precious gems, has finally been returned to Ukraine after a nearly 10-year dispute over its ownership with Russia. The collection, which originally belonged to Crimean museums, was on loan to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum when Russia annexed Ukraine’s peninsula in 2014. Both Ukraine and Russia claimed the items, but Dutch courts ultimately ruled in favor of Kyiv.

In a statement, the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in Kyiv expressed its joy at the return of the treasures and revealed that they would be kept in the museum until the “de-occupation of Crimea”. The transfer of the artifacts was captured in a video released by Ukraine’s SBU security service, showing a lorry carrying the 2,694kg (5,940lb) load en route to Kyiv. The Allard Pierson Museum confirmed the safe arrival of the objects, highlighting that they were carefully packed in accordance with museum rules.

The case has been considered a “special case” where cultural heritage became entangled in geopolitical disputes. The Crimean museums, supported by Moscow, argued for the return of the artifacts to the peninsula, but the Dutch appeals court and Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ukraine. The Supreme Court stated that the treasures must be returned to the state of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea.

While Ukraine celebrates the return of the treasures, the Russian-installed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksenov, expressed his expectation of the return, claiming that Western countries and Kyiv disregard the law. He emphasized that the issue would only be settled when Russia achieves its goals in the ongoing military operation launched against Ukraine in February 2022. Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, echoed this sentiment, asserting that the collection belongs to Crimea and should remain there.

The loaned artifacts originate from five museums, with four located in Crimea and one in Kyiv. Among the noteworthy pieces is a gold Scythian ceremonial helmet dating back to the 4th Century BC, in addition to other treasures from the Greek colonization era in Crimea.

The return of these ancient Ukrainian treasures marks a significant achievement for Ukraine in reclaiming and preserving its rich cultural heritage. It serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting and safeguarding cultural artifacts during times of political turmoil. The resolution of this case sets a precedent for future disputes over ownership of cultural treasures and emphasizes the role of international courts in adjudicating such conflicts. As Ukraine continues to navigate its path towards de-occupation and stability, the return of these treasured artifacts represents a symbolic victory and a step forward in preserving its historical legacy for future generations.