After 9 years in limbo, treasures from Crimea return to Ukraine

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After 9 years in limbo, treasures from Crimea return to Ukraine
The treasures have until now been kept in "safe storage" at the Allard Pierson museum, which is the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam.

by Nina Siegal

AMSTERDAM.- Hundreds of ancient artifacts from Crimea that were stored in a Dutch museum for nine years while Russia and Ukraine waged a legal battle over their ownership are now back in Ukraine, officials in Amsterdam said Monday.

The works arrived Sunday at the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine in Kyiv, said officials at the Allard Pierson Museum, an archaeological museum at the University of Amsterdam, which borrowed around 400 works from four Crimean museums in 2014 for the exhibition “Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea.” The artifacts included gold jewelry, gold plaques, precious gems, Greek and Roman stone ornaments and ceramics.

A month into the show’s run, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and when it came time to send the objects back, a legal conflict emerged: Should they go back to the Crimean museums, now under Russian state control, or to Ukraine, which argued that the works were part of its national heritage?

The nine-year struggle over the treasures became a kind of proxy war over national sovereignty and cultural property. Els van der Plas, director of the Allard Pierson Museum, said in a statement that it was “a special case in which cultural heritage became a victim of geopolitical developments.”

Rostyslav Karandeev, Ukraine’s culture minister, announced the return of the objects Tuesday in a statement on a government website, expressing gratitude to the museum for storing them while the dispute was ongoing.

But the University of Amsterdam declined to confirm the Ukrainian announcement last week. Yasha Lange, a university spokesperson, said Monday that the university had remained silent because the gold was still in transit. Now that it was securely in Kyiv, he said, “We’re happy that these objects are now returned to their legitimate owners.”

At a news conference Monday, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, reaffirmed Russia’s position that the collection should return to the four lending museums.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine praised the Dutch Supreme Court’s ruling in June, writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the collection “cannot be returned to Crimea for an obvious reason — it cannot be given to the occupier, the robber.” He vowed to return the works to their places of origin at a future time when he hoped that Ukraine would reclaim the territory. “Of course, it will be in Crimea,” he said, “when the Ukrainian flag will be in Crimea.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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