Ancient Crimean gold treasures returned to Kyiv Monday after being stuck in a Dutch museum for nine years, where they were on show when Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula in 2014.
Ukraine hailed the arrival of the jewels in the midst of the Russian full-scale 2022 invasion as a victory for its “identity and freedom”.
The Scythian artefacts — some around 2,000 years old — were on loan to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson museum when they suddenly were at the centre of a geopolitical crisis following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Years of legal battles ensued, with both Kyiv and Moscow-controlled Crimean museums filing suits that the jewels should be in their hands, before the Dutch Supreme Court ruled this summer they should go to Ukraine.
“After almost 10 years of trials, artefacts from four museums of Crimea… returned to Ukraine,” the National Museum of the History of Ukraine (NMHU) said on its website.
“They will be kept in the NMHU until the de-occupation of Crimea,” it added.
Their return comes 21 months into Moscow’s offensive, and is a symbolic win for Ukraine, which has repeatedly vowed to retake Crimea.
- ‘Victim of geopolitical developments’ –
Ukraine’s customs service said the jewels arrived from Amsterdam by truck, equipped with a “temperature maintenance system, in special trunks”.
It published a video of the truck entering Kyiv’s medieval Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, where it said customs officers will go through the 2,694 kilograms (5,900 pounds) of jewels.
Kyiv’s culture minister Rostyslav Karandeyev called the return of the artefacts a “great historical victory.”
“The exhibition in the Netherlands covered the history of Ukrainian Crimea. Therefore only the people of Ukraine should own these historical values,” he added.
“Today, it is very important for us to preserve and protect history, traditions and historical heritage. This is what we are fighting for on the battlefield. For our identity and freedom,” he added.
Moscow has insisted that the hundreds of artefacts — which include a golden helmet — should be kept in Crimea, territory which it claims as its own.
“It belongs to Crimea, it should be there,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday in response to the jewels arriving in Ukraine.
The treasures were kept at the Allard Pierson museum throughout the legal battles, awaiting a ruling.
In June, the Netherlands’ top court ruled they should be handed to Ukraine, and not to the four Crimean museums.
“This was a special case, in which cultural heritage became a victim of geopolitical developments,” Allard Pierson director Els van der Plas said on the museum’s website.
She said that, during the legal battles, the museum “focused on safely storing the artefacts until the time came to return them to their rightful owner.”
“We are pleased that clarity has emerged and that they have now been returned,” she added.
©️ Agence France-Presse