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Kyiv Pechersk Lavra
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Five Unesco world heritage sites at risk of destruction in Ukraine

From medieval town centres to ornate cathedrals, the country brims with historic attractions

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Obviously, when it comes to Russian invasion of Ukraine, people have to come first. Providing safe corridors for evacuation from cities on the front line, assisting refugees in the asylum process, and working with charities and humanitarian groups to help people on the ground – this is all stuff that should take priority.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t worry about other things in Ukraine, too. History and culture are vital to human societies – and are especially important when their very existence is threatened by imperialistic aggression. As we’ve seen in all over the world from Syria and Mali to the Balkans, immensely valuable cultural sites aren’t immune from destruction in warfare.

Ukraine currently has seven Unesco World Heritage sites, many of which could be destroyed in the current invasion. They aren’t all at risk (after all, it’s pretty difficult to destroy an entire forest, and there’s an ancient Greek colony in Sevastopol which has been under Russian occupation since 2014) but some could certainly be threatened – especially with recent allegations of increasingly indiscriminate Russian bombardment. Below are five that are at risk right now.

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World heritage sites at risk of destruction in Ukraine

Old Town, Lviv
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Old Town, Lviv

Lviv’s Old Town dates back all the way to medieval times, when it was a flourishing trading centre and thriving melting pot of different peoples and cultures. From the castle to the city centre, this part of Lviv – in Ukraine’s far west, rather far from the bulk of the conflict so far – is a glorious synthesis of eras and traditions.

Struve Geodetic Arc, Odessa
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Struve Geodetic Arc, Odessa

The Struve Geodetic Arc was a pretty ingenious idea and helped early astronomers to work out the size and shape of the Earth. In the 1800s Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve placed 34 stations across ten countries and almost 3,000 kilometres – all with the aim of determining the distance between two points with the same longitude. Four of the arc’s points are in Ukraine, split between the oblasts (regions) of Odessa and Khmelnytskyi.

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv

Saint Sophia is arguably Kyiv’s most iconic landmark, and the cathedral, together with its nearby monastic buildings, form a complex of immense religious and artistic importance. Unesco says that the combined site is ‘a masterpiece of human creative genius in both its architectural conception and its remarkable decoration’.

Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans, Chernivtsi
Photograph: F8 studio /

4. Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans, Chernivtsi

Renowned for its sprawling courtyards, dazzling façades and fine detail, the Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans is a palace originally built for an Eastern Orthodox Bishop. It’s in Chernivtsi, a city in Ukraine’s very far west and close to the Romanian border which is currently acting as a haven for thousands of refugees fleeing Kyiv and the east of the country.

Wooden Tserkvas, Carpathian Region
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Wooden Tserkvas, Carpathian Region

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities throughout the Carpathian mountains (which straddle both western Ukraine and south-eastern Poland) built magnificent wooden churches called tserkvas. There are 16 in total that remain, with eight of those in Ukraine. They’re mostly in the far west of the country, near the Polish border.


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