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Crimean museums fear loss of ancient treasures

SIMFEROPOL--Four Crimean museums fear they could lose hundreds of precious artifacts loaned to a Dutch museum before the peninsula's rapid transfer from Russia to Ukraine, a museum director said Wednesday.

The rich collection of items spanning the 2nd century BC to the late medieval era, was loaned to the Allard Pierson museum in Amsterdam before the political upheaval that resulted in Crimea splitting off from Ukraine.

Now curators in both Amsterdam and Crimea have been left wringing their hands over the political dilemma facing them: do the artifacts go to Kiev or Moscow once the exhibition ends?

“In the agreement it states that these items are part of the national state fund of Ukraine,” said Andrei Malgin, director of the Tavrida museum in Simferopol.

The museum is one of five from Ukraine taking part in the exhibit, four of which are situated in the now-Russian peninsula of Crimea.

The absorption — which is not recognized by Western states — has left the museum with a “very complex legal issue,” said Yasha Lange, spokeswoman for Amsterdam University which owns the museum.

“Who owns the objects?” Lange asked. “The art objects will remain in the Netherlands until the exhibition ends, but given the political changes, we're now checking to whom we should give them.”

The Allard Pierson has now turned to the Dutch foreign ministry for advice, Lange said, adding the museum was in “constant contact” with Kiev and Moscow on the issue.

He highlighted that the museum “considers it extremely important to exercise care in this situation.”

The exhibits include a scabbard and a ceremonial Scythian helmet made from gold, as well as a lacquered box, originally from China, which in Roman times found its way to Crimea via the Silk Road.

The ambiguity over the artifacts' future worries Crimea's museums, Malgin told AFP.

“I don't see why political events should threaten these items,” he said in his office in central Simferopol.

“Probably there are people in Kiev who would be interested in these items not making it back to the Crimea,” but the museums will put maximum effort into getting them back, he said, adding that the Russian culture ministry had already been informed about the potential conflict.

Malgin said the Scythian brass and ceramic items on loan were the symbol of his museum.

“They are beautiful items that would be a great loss.”

Crimea was at the crossroads of ancient trade routes and the shores of the Black Sea peninsula have long been excavated by archeologists, yielding fantastic treasures.

“Never before has Ukraine made so many prize archaeological exhibits available on loan,” a press release for the exhibit said.

“The exhibition casts new light on the Scythians, Goths and Huns, for centuries dismissed as little more than 'barbarians.'”

The exhibition ends in August.

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