An appeals court in the Netherlands has ruled that Ukraine has legal control over a trove of ancient artifacts from Crimea that was on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia seized the peninsula in 2014 in a decision hailed by Kyiv but slammed by Moscow.
The items, known as the Scythian Gold, are in the Netherlands because they were borrowed from four museums in Crimea and one in Kyiv for an exhibition in early 2014 at Amsterdam's Allard Pierson Museum.
They were sent before Russia forcibly annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegitimate by the UN General Assembly.
The pieces, including a solid gold Scythian helmet and a golden neck ornament each weighing more than a kilogram, were on display in the Netherlands when Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
"The Allard Pierson Museum is no longer obliged to return the pieces to the Crimean museums," said the ruling, which can be appealed.
"The rights of the Ukrainian state, based on the Law of Museums ... take precedence," the court added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy immediately hailed the decision as a "long-awaited victory."
"The 'Scythian gold' will return to Ukraine. We always will regain what’s ours. After the 'Scythian gold,' we'll [get back] Crimea," he added.
The appeal came after a court in Amsterdam ruled in 2016 that the collection was part of Ukraine's cultural heritage and should be returned to Kyiv.
The court stated that only sovereign states could claim objects as cultural heritage.
Museums in Moscow-controlled Crimea rejected the ruling saying that the artifacts are part of Crimea’s heritage and should be returned to the museums in the peninsula.
It was not immediately clear whether the four Crimean museums would lodge a final appeal before the Dutch Supreme Court or when the pieces would actually be handed over to Kyiv.
The lawyer representing the museums said his clients "were very sad" by the Dutch appeals court’s decision.
"The goods are considered to be of Ukrainian heritage and are to be given back. But there is no 'back' because it never belonged to Kyiv's museums," Rob Meijer told reporters.
The Russian Culture Ministry said it supported the museums' bid to get the treasures back, saying that the pieces had been found in Crimea and "belong" to a museum that originally exhibited them, according to AFP.
The head of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Leonid Slutsky, denounced "a kind of cultural hijacking multiplied by Russophobia."
Kyiv has accused Russia of looting many treasures from Crimea since the annexation and feared Moscow would claim the artifacts once they were returned to the Crimean museums.