An Amsterdam court has ruled that ancient treasures on loan to a Dutch museum should be handed to Ukraine and not the Crimea museums they came from.
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, while the collection was on display at the Allard Pierson museum in Amsterdam.
Four museums in Crimea asked for the collection to be returned, but Ukraine argued that it was state property.
The court decided that under Unesco rules the treasures should be handed back to the sovereign state.
As Crimea was not a sovereign state, the court ruled that it was for Ukraine to decide where the collection should go.
The judges said it would be up to the courts in Ukraine to decide who was the rightful owner of the collection. They ordered the government in Kiev to pay the museum €110,000 (£93,000) for looking after the treasures over the past two years.
‘Ukraine has won on every count’
The Dutch exhibition “Crimea – Gold and secrets of the Black Sea” ran from February to May 2014, and featured gold pieces dating back to when the ancient Greeks colonised the peninsula. While four of the Ukrainian museums that loaned items to Amsterdam were in Crimea, a fifth was in Kiev.
Part of the collection was a Scythian ceremonial helmet from the 4th Century BC.
Ukrainians were jubilant at the court’s decision. “Ukraine has won on every count,” said vice culture minister Svitlana Fomenko. President Petro Poroshenko said the court’s decision meant not merely that “the Scythian gold belongs to Ukraine, but Crimea too”.
However, Crimea archaeologist Valentina Mordvintseva, who was involved in the exhibition itself, had earlier appealed for the case to be above politics. “It’s like tearing a page out of a special book. These artefacts come from our soil, so they must go back to Crimea,” she told Dutch media.
Russia’s culture ministry denounced the Dutch ruling, complaining it “grossly violates the principles of international exchanges between museums and the right of the people of Crimea to have access to their own cultural heritage”.
The collection will not be sent back to Kiev immediately. The Russian government has three months to appeal against the decision.