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Ancient Ukraine treasures returned after court battle

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Image source, Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam

A historic collection of ancient treasures has been returned to Ukraine, after a nearly 10-year dispute over its ownership with Russia, Kyiv says.

It says 565 items – including Scythian and Sarmatian jewellery, and sculptures – are back from the Netherlands.

The collection, mostly from 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 backed Kyiv.

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In a statement on Monday, the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in Kyiv said: “After almost 10 years of court hearings, artefacts from four Crimean museums that were presented at the exhibition ‘Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea’ in Amsterdam have returned to Ukraine”.

It added that the collection, which includes bronze swords, golden helmets and precious gems, would be kept in the museum until the “de-occupation of Crimea”.

Ukraine’s SBU security service on Monday posted a video showing what it said was a lorry with the artefacts weighing 2,694kg (5,940lb) heading to be identified in Kyiv.

A sword and scabbard from the collection

Image source, Allard Pierson museum

The Allard Pierson Museum said the objects, which were “independently checked and carefully packed in accordance with museum rules” last month, arrived in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday.

Its director Els van der Plas described it as a “special case, in which cultural heritage became a victim of geopolitical developments”.

The Crimean museums where they were originally held – backed by Moscow – unsuccessfully argued that the artefacts should be returned to the peninsula.

A Dutch appeals court ruled in 2021 that the treasures belonged to Ukraine, rather than a specific museum. The country’s Supreme Court agreed with that decision in its ruling earlier this year.

“This decision ends this dispute. The Allard Pierson Museum must return these artistic treasures to the state of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea,” the Supreme Court said in a ruling in June.

This allowed them to be returned to the Kyiv history museum.

Sergei Aksenov, the Russian-installed head of Crimea, said on Monday the Dutch move to return the treasures to Ukraine had been expected “because both the West and Kyiv do not care about the law”.

He added that the issue would be settled only when “the goals of the special military operation” set by Russian President Vladimir Putin were achieved.

Mr Aksenov was referring to Russia’s full-scale invasion launched against Ukraine by the Kremlin leader in February 2022.

Meanwhile, Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russia’s state-run media that the collection “belongs to Crimea, it should be there”.

The artefacts had been loaned by five museums: four in Crimea and one in Kyiv.

They include a gold Scythian ceremonial helmet dating back to the 4th Century BC and other treasures from the era when the ancient Greeks colonised Crimea.

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