Return of Cultural Treasures: Scythian Gold Set To Find Its Way Back to Ukraine Nearly a Decade After Russia’s Crimea Invasion

In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, prompting the Dutch Supreme Court to ship Scythian gold relics to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum for safekeeping after determining that the historical treasures did not belong under Russian-annexed Crimea. Fast forward nearly a decade, and the Scythian gold artifacts will finally be returned to their home nation at the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine following years of disputes. The Netherlands will be returning the gold relics without charging Ukraine any storage fees.

Russia’s invasion of Crimea occurred in 2014, though the Netherlands has been storing the Scythian gold artifacts since the fall of 2013 for safekeeping. The equestrian nomadic people of the ancient Scythians inhabited Crimea between the seventh and third century B.C.

The Scythian gold artifacts include hundreds of valuable historical items, including a solid gold helmet and ornamental neckpiece that each weigh over two pounds. A few other pieces include ceremonial daggers, Chinese lacquer caskets, and traditional Scythian jewelry, with some items as old as 2,000 years.

When the Netherlands brought the relics to Amsterdam, the Kremlin immediately demanded they be returned to their original exhibit in Crimea. Ukraine’s capital insisted that the artifacts were property of Ukraine rather than property of the museums themselves or Crimea. The two powers disputed in Dutch courts for nearly a decade, as Russia argued that the failure to return the relics lent from the institutions violated the loan agreement.

The “Scythian gold belongs to Crimea and must be there,” Dmitry S. Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters during a press conference. The situation has been under debate for quite some time, though, of course, it escalated following Russia’s more recent invasion of Ukraine in 2022. This large-scale invasion sparked a more immediate need for action.

Finally, after almost a decade of litigation, the court came to a decision favoring Ukraine’s argument brought by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal.

The court’s ruling asserted that Crimea is a portion of its internationally recognized “territorial integrity” (Ukraine). This decision aligned with the lower court ruling in 2021 to return the collection to Ukraine.

“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 court explained.

Now, the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam is returning all of the Scythian gold artifacts and waiving all fees associated with the decade of storage and maintenance.

“The return of artifacts of special historical and cultural significance is a significant and multifaceted process. It combines legal, museum, diplomatic, and logistical aspects. We are looking forward to the return of the collections, one of which is known as ‘Scythian gold,’ back home to Ukraine,” Rostislav Karandeyev, the Acting Minister of Culture and Information Policy, explained, according to the ministry’s website.

Following this successful decision, the Ukrainian National History Museum and its team are working to unpack the 565 pieces of Scythian gold artifacts. The items arrived via truck about two weeks ago, and the team has since been carefully sorting through each item in an effort to preserve the history.

“The museum will make every effort to preserve [the artifacts],” Fedir Androschuk, the director of the institution, explained in the statement, adding that “all those who were behind the political decision to return the collection to warring Ukraine [had a special responsibility to] provide it with unprecedented protection.”

Moving forward, the Ukrainian National History Museum plans to store the artifacts for as long as Crimea remains occupied by Russia. Upon the de-occupation, the museum will return the artifacts to their original location.

The artifacts “cannot be returned to Crimea for an obvious reason—it cannot be given to the occupier, the robber,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Twitter while praising the court’s decision. “Of course, it will be in Crimea—when the Ukrainian flag will be in Crimea.”

The museums in Crimea that may regain ownership upon de-occupation one day include the Kerch Historical and Archaeological Reserve, the Bakhchisarai Historical and Cultural Reserve, the Central Museum of Taurida, and the National Reserve Khersones Tavriyskyi.

Russia has been in a lot of gold-related news headlines lately with its shady trade practices involving Hong Kong and Dubai as an attempt to get around Western sanctions. This recent court decision displays one greater win against the lucrative force and its opaque practices. While the actual decision may not affect Russia’s enormous gold holdings, it will restore a level of balance in gold history.

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