Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed on Friday that the country’s Prosecutor General initiated proceedings regarding the “illegal export” of the Orthodox icon which Bosnia’s Presidency Chairman, Milorad Dodik, gave Russia’s Foreign Minister in December, Radio Free Europe reported.
“The Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has initiated proceedings in the criminal case of illegal export,” the spokesperson of Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Oleg Nikolenko, told RFE in a written statement.
After Dodik gave Lavrov the 300-year-old gilded icon in December, the Ukrainian Embassy in Sarajevo sent a note to the BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking for detailed information on the origin of what it suspects is a piece of Ukrainian cultural heritage. Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture said the icon could have been illegally taken from the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Luhansk by mercenaries.
Bosnia’s Prosecutor’s Office has meanwhile launched an investigation into the matter.
By the end of the month, the icon was returned to Bosnia via the Bosnian ambassador in Moscow, per Russia’s request.
Dodik said last week that the entire narrative regarding the artefact was made up and that the media in Bosnia’s semi-autonomous Federation (FBiH) was tasked with creating a “false story.”
This was, however, disputed by Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Dmytro Kuleba.
On Thursday, Dodik mentioned the case while he was criticising the situation in Bosnia’s judiciary.
“If Ukraine proves that it asked for the icon before the date when I had a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, I will agree to hand it over,” Dodik said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry reacted to this statement.
“Ukraine rejects the language of conditioning and ultimatums of the member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik. It is an indisputable fact that the icon originates from the territory of Ukraine,” it said.
It also said that it expects Bosnia’s authorities to help in the investigation and in efforts to bring the artefact back to Ukraine as soon as possible.
“We expect that, instead of turning the icon into a hostage of a domestic political struggle, the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will provide assistance as part of a criminal investigation,” it said.
The ministry also reminded of the fact that Bosnia and Ukraine are both signatories of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.