As the war in Ukraine approaches 200 days in length, the horrific toll on the Ukrainian people continues to grow. More than 5,000 civilians are thought to have been killed so far in the conflict and over seven million refugees have dispersed across Europe.
But there’s another side to the Russian invasion: the destruction of Ukrainian culture. Back in June, Unesco estimated that 150 important cultural sites may have already been damaged by the conflict – and now that number could have increased to 170.
In a bid to protect its cultural heritage, the Ukrainian government is trying something new: it wants the city of Odesa to be added to the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites. Odesa isn’t far from the frontline (only a few dozen miles, in fact) and has already been struck by Russian artillery,
So why Odesa? Well, the Black Sea port city has over 300 buildings that have been deemed of architectural and cultural importance. The place is known for loads of glorious stuff, from the ‘Potemkin Stairs’ (made famous by a scene in Eisenstein’s cinematic epic Battleship Potemkin) to the Museum of Fine Arts, one of Ukraine’s most important art museums.
Some parts of Odesa are already Unesco-listed, but now protection is being sought for the entire city, rather than just its historic centre. The Ukrainian government has also asked Unesco to classify the city (along with individual sites in Kyiv and Lviv) as ‘endangered’.
You might be wondering what all the point of this is. After all, it seems unlikely that Unesco protected status will stop Russian troops from bombing Odesa. Well, Unesco status draws more attention to the destruction of important cultural sites and covers them with a so-called ‘blue shield’, meaning that damage to them is punishable at The Hague. Protected sites also get more funding from the UN should anything get damaged or destroyed.
You can read Unesco’s updated list of damaged cultural sites in Ukraine here and, if you’d like to do a bit more, here are some ways you can help the people of Ukraine right now.