UNESCO is condemning the brutal strikes carried out by Russian forces, which hit several cultural sites in the city centre of Odessa, Ukraine where the World Heritage site “The Historic Centre of Odessa” is located.
As well as killing at least two people, the latest strikes damaged a number of important cultural sites - including the Transfiguration Cathedral, Odessa's first and most important Orthodox church, founded in 1794.
This attack came just days after others that had already hit several cultural heritage sites in Lviv and Odessa, in areas protected by the World Heritage Convention .
According to a preliminary report, several museums located within the World Heritage site suffered damage, including the Archaeological Museum, the Fleet Museum, and the Odessa Literature Museum.
All had been designated by UNESCO and local authorities with the Blue Shield, which acts to protect heritage during emergency situations – armed conflict and natural or man-made disasters.
An escalation of violence against Ukraine's heritage
"This outrageous destruction marks an escalation of violence against cultural heritage of Ukraine. I strongly condemn this attack against culture, and I urge the Russian Federation to take meaningful action to comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 World Heritage Convention,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s Director-General.
The Director-General of UNESCO visited Odesa on April 4, 2023 to meet with World Heritage site managers and stakeholders from the cultural sector and take stock of the emergency actions undertaken by UNESCO to protect these culturally signifcant areas.
A war crime?
UNESCO will continue to engage with managers of World Heritage sites, local and national authorities in order to identify urgent needs for assistance.
In the next few days, UNESCO will send a mission to Odessa to carry out a preliminary assessment of the damage.
A recent press release from UNESCO states, "these attacks contradict recent statements by the authorities of Russia concerning the precautions taken to spare World Heritage sites in Ukraine including their buffer zones."
UNESCO stresses that the intentional destruction of cultural property can be considered a war crime, as recognized by the United Nations Security Council – of which the Russian Federation is a permanent member – in its Resolution 2347 (2017).
Since February 24, 2022, UNESCO has documented damage to some 270 Ukrainian cultural sites .