The United Nations Culture, Education, and Science agency, UNESCO has strongly condemned Russia’s missile attack on the historic center of Odesa, Ukraine, which is protected under the World Heritage Convention.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during the night of July 22nd to 23rd, Russia launched a barrage of 19 missiles at Odesa, causing extensive damage to 25 architectural landmarks, which notably included the city’s primary Orthodox church, the Transfiguration Cathedral.
Zelenskyy stated that the cathedral had been struck directly by an X-22 anti-ship missile, significantly damaging the structure. Photographs revealed extensive harm, with noticeable sections of the roof missing and evident interior damage.
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. UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay
The church underwent consecration in the year 1809. However, in 1936, it faced destruction at the hands of the Soviets. Nevertheless, following Ukraine’s independence, in 2003, it was reconstructed and restored to its former glory.
The attack reportedly resulted in the loss of two lives, and approximately 20 individuals sustained injuries.
The agency said this “act of hostility” follows other recent attacks that impacted cultural heritage in areas of Lviv and Odesa that are protected under the World Heritage Convention.
“This outrageous destruction marks an escalation of violence against the cultural heritage of Ukraine,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General. She urged Russia “to take meaningful action” to comply with its obligations under international law, including with regard to the protection of cultural property during armed conflict.
Furthermore, the attacks contradict recent statements by Russian authorities concerning precautions taken to spare World Heritage sites in Ukraine, including their buffer zones, the agency said, adding that intentional destruction of cultural sites may amount to a war crime.
In response to the war, UNESCO is working to promote the protection of cultural institutions in Ukraine, along with other actions such as denouncing violence against journalists and supporting the maintenance of education.
Ms. Azoulay was in Odesa in April where she met with World Heritage site managers and stakeholders from the cultural sector. She took stock of emergency actions by UNESCO to protect cultural heritage threatened by the conflict.
Speaking then, she said nearly $7 billion would be required over the next decade to rebuild the cultural sector in Ukraine.