Dutch Supreme Court orders return of historical artifacts to Ukraine

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The Supreme Court of the Netherlands on Friday ordered that a Dutch museum’s trove of historical treasures from Crimea be sent to Ukraine, upholding a lower court ruling that the 300 artifacts are part of Ukraine’s cultural heritage.

The collection of archaeological objects, some more than 2,000 years old, was on display at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, sparking a dispute over the repatriation of the borrowed pieces.

Both the Ukrainian government in Kyiv and the four Crimean museums that had loaned bronze swords, golden helmets, precious gems and other artifacts to the Allard Pierson demanded the objects back. The Amsterdam museum instead opted to store the items until a court could decide their fate.

The legal tug-of-war has now ended with the Hague-based Supreme Court ordering the collection to be returned to Ukraine. Judges cited the lack of national recognition for the Russia-annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

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“Although the museum pieces originate from Crimea and can therefore also be regarded as Crimean heritage, they are part of the cultural heritage of Ukraine,” the ruling said.

Mediation in 2014 between all the museums involved and Ukrainian authorities failed, and the Allard Pierson Museum took the matter to court.

Highlights from the “Crimea — Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea” exhibition included a solid gold Scythian helmet from the fourth century B.C. and a golden neck ornament from the second century A.D. that weighs more than a kilogram (two pounds).

Rob Meijer, third from left, lawyer for the Crimean museums and Paul Loeb, lawyer for the Allard Pierson Museum, center right, wait for the presiding judge to read the verdict in a Dutch appeals court in Amsterdam, Tuesday Oct. 26, 2021, on ownership of a trove of Crimean historical artifacts that were loaned to an Amsterdam museum shortly before Russia annexed the region. A lower court ruled in 2016 that the treasures should be handed to the Ukrainian government. Associated Press

In 2016, the District Court of Amsterdam cited the 1970 UNESCO convention, finding that the objects must be returned to the sovereign state that loaned them and the issue of ownership should be decided by a Ukrainian court.

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The Crimean museums appealed and Russia threatened to stop lending objects to Dutch museums if the museum didn’t return the pieces. In 2021, an appeals court again ordered the objects to be sent to Ukraine.

In a statement, the Allard Pierson Museum says it can now act on the decision and return the objects. Legal fees and storage have already cost the museum more than 500,000 euros ($538,000), according to documents it submitted during the proceedings.

It is unclear when the transfer of the objects will take place.

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