UNESCO designates Odesa as a World Heritage Site amid threats of war | Arts and Culture News

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The United Nations cultural organization has decided to add the historical center of the Black Sea port city of Odesa in Ukraine to the list of World Heritage sites to recognize the “outstanding universal value of the site and the responsibility of all mankind to protect it” as the city -high risk of destruction.

The 21 member states of the UNESCO world heritage committee agreed to the decision with six votes against, one against and 14 voting.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine last February and has bombed Odesa several times, tried to delay the vote again.

“While the war continues, this writing embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always weathered global upheaval, is to be preserved from further destruction,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said after the decision.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who requested the listing in October, welcomed the announcement.

The status aims to help protect Odesa’s cultural heritage, and provide access to international financial and technical support.

“Today Odesa received UNESCO protection,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

“I am grateful to partners who help protect our pearl from the attacks of Russian invaders.”

‘The historical past’

Founded in the last years of the 18th century near the site of a captured Ottoman fortress, Odesa’s location on the shores of the Black Sea turned it into one of the most important ports in the Russian empire.

People walking through a glass-roofed shopping arcade in the historic center of Odesa.  The buildings on both sides are decorated and covered with statues.
Odesa, once one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe, came under attack during the Second World War but the historic center of 19th century buildings survived largely intact [Serhii Smolientsev/Reuters]

Its status as a trading center brought great wealth and made it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Eastern Europe.

The city’s most famous historical sites include its Opera House, which became a symbol of tolerance when it reopened in June 2022, and the grand staircase to the harbor, immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film, Battleship Potemkin.

Although Odesa suffered extensive damage during the Second World War, its famous square of low-rise buildings from the 19th century survived mostly intact.

Since the Russian invasion, Ukrainians have been in a hurry to protect the city’s monuments and buildings with sandbags and barricades.

In July 2022, parts of the large glass roof and windows of the Museum of Fine Arts, founded in 1899, were destroyed.

UNESCO said it had already helped repair the building, as well as the Odesa Museum of Modern Art, which was also damaged in the conflict.

In Moscow, Russia’s foreign ministry accused a group of Western countries of pushing through a “politically motivated” decision that went against normal procedures.

“It was prepared quickly, without respecting the current high standards of UNESCO,” said the foreign ministry, stressing that only six countries voted in favor.

Moscow celebrated Odesa’s “glorious historical period as part of the Russian state” and insisted that Odesa’s “only threat” was from “the nationalist regime in Ukraine” which had destroyed several monuments in the city down.

Following a poll of residents, city authorities last year removed a monument to Russian Empress Catherine the Great, seen as the city’s founder, as part of efforts ‘de-Russification’.

Ukraine has argued that the city, the country’s third largest, flourished long before Catherine the Great and that Odesa dates back to the 15th century when it was known as Hadzhybei.

Ukraine is not a member of the UNESCO committee, which is currently chaired by Saudi Arabia.

Under the 1972 UNESCO treaty, ratified by Ukraine and Russia, signatories undertake to “assist in the protection of the listed sites” and are obliged to “refrain from taking deliberate measures” which could damage World Heritage sites.

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