The lack of an official answer regarding how the Ukrainian Orthodox icon which Bosnia’s Presidency Chairman gifted to Russia’s Foreign Minister arrived on Bosnian territory indicates that the artefact was brought to the country illegally and Ukraine wants it back, the Ukrainian Embassy said.
After the Serb member of the tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, gave Russia’s Sergey 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 December, the icon was returned to Bosnia via the Bosnian ambassador in Moscow, per Russia’s request.
“The Embassy of Ukraine in Bosnia and Herzegovina insists on the urgent provision of information from official Sarajevo on how the mentioned Ukrainian icon, which was gifted to the head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, arrived on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” a statement by the Embassy said.
The absence of an answer to this question or a delay in providing it indicates that the artefact was brought to Bosnia and Herzegovina illegally, it said.
“This question is of key importance and the answer to it must be immediate and unambiguous, not only provided through the media but also officially,” it said.
The statement pointed out that the first step has already been taken – the icon was returned to Bosnia.
“The final step remains – the return of the icon to Ukraine,” the embassy said.
In his first address to the media after his 16-day battle with COVID-19 on Tuesday, Dodik said 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.”
“Ukraine has never raised the issue of the disappearance of that icon. It is a family icon. Even today, the government bodies have not asked for that icon,” he told reporters.
However, according to Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, this is not true.
“The Ukrainian icon even burned the hands of experienced cynical Russian diplomats who disowned it. But Mr. Dodik continues to lie, surpassing his older friends. Ukraine continues to demand the return of the icon,” Kuleba tweeted on Wednesday.