A Dutch appeals court has ruled that a collection of ancient Crimean gold artefacts, claimed by Ukraine and museums in the Russian-annexed territory, should be returned to the Ukrainian state.
The pieces, including a solid gold Scythian helmet and a golden neck ornament each weighing more than 1kg (35 oz), were on display in the Netherlands when Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
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Reading a summary of Tuesday’s decision, presiding Judge Pauline Hofmeijer-Rutten said that the national culture interests of Ukraine outweigh those of the museums in Crimea.
“The Allard Pierson Museum is no longer obliged to return the pieces to the Crimean museums,” she said. “The rights of the Ukrainian state, based on the Law of Museums … take precedence.”
Kyiv welcomed the ruling, which can be appealed before the Dutch Supreme Court. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was a “fair decision” and hailed the “long-awaited victory” to return the treasure.
“We always regain what’s ours. After the ‘Scythian gold’, we’ll return Crimea,” Zelenskyy tweeted.
The long-awaited victory in the Amsterdam Court of Appeal. "Scythian gold" returns to 🇺🇦. Grateful to the court for a fair decision, and to @minjust_gov_ua, @MFA_Ukraine & @MKIPUkraine for the result. We always regain what’s ours. After the "Scythian gold", we'll return Crimea.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) October 26, 2021
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow.
Rob Meijer, the lawyer who appealed on behalf of the museums, said he was disappointed with the ruling but that it was up to his clients to decide on whether to lodge a further appeal.
“These treasures … have been excavated in Crimea, they’ve been taken care of, restored, exhibited always in Crimea,” he said.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea drew Western sanctions. Western countries and most of the rest of the world recognise the Black Sea peninsula as Ukrainian, and Kyiv wants the territory returned.
Maarten Sanders, the lawyer representing Ukraine in the treasures dispute, said it would be difficult for Russia to attempt to claim ownership of the items in a Dutch court, as the United Nations and European Union have not recognised its sovereignty over Crimea.
A lower court in 2016 had ordered the Allard Pierson Museum to return the archaeological treasures, which also include gems, helmets and scabbards, to Ukraine’s government rather than the four museums that had lent them out.
Russia appealed that decision, and the appeals court subsequently partially reversed the lower court’s decision in 2019.
It found that it had wrongly ruled that only governments could claim objects as cultural heritage, and said that it needed “further information” from both sides to make a final decision on the case.
The University of Amsterdam, the owner of the Allard Pierson Museum, has said the museum will continue to keep the objects in storage until all appeals are settled.