More than 150 cultural sites have been partially or totally destroyed in nearly four months of war in Ukraine, the United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced on Thursday, reiterating its call for respect for the international law.
“According to the checks carried out since February 4 by its experts, these are 70 religious buildings, 30 historic buildings, 18 cultural centers, 15 monuments, 12 museums and 7 libraries,” UNESCO said in a press release.
In total, the new count shows 152 cultural sites in Ukraine partially or totally destroyed since the start of the war.
According to UNESCO, three regions have concentrated three-quarters of the damage since February 24, the date of the start of the Russian invasion: those of Donetsk (45 sites affected), Kharkiv (40) and kyiv (26).
On the ground, the UN agency based in Paris indicated the continuation of its actions to support cultural professionals, but recalls that these “repeated attacks on Ukrainian cultural sites must stop”.
“Cultural heritage, in all its forms, should never be targeted. I reiterate my call for respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.
None of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites was affected
In mid-April, Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, had already reported about a hundred damaged or destroyed sites, including historical monuments, “some (dating) from the 11th, 12th and others to the architecture of the Soviet era”.
There are also churches, cathedrals, with unique liturgical objects, theaters, like that of Mariupol, libraries and other archive buildings, monuments built to the glory of the history of Ukraine. “These destructions are dramatic,” he regretted.
Note that the seven Ukrainian sites classified as World Heritage have not been damaged to date, according to the UN organization. Signatories to the 1954 Hague Convention, Ukraine and Russia have an obligation to protect cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict, recalled Audrey Azoulay.
By listing and documenting the damage and destruction of cultural sites, UNESCO not only alerts to the seriousness of the situation, but also prepares for future reconstruction. Although it is still too early to initiate projects, the UN Organization has already created a fund dedicated to actions in support of Ukraine and has launched a call for contributions from its Member States for a rapid response. .
Emergency measures and bases for future reconstruction
With the same objective, UNESCO is in the process of constituting a team dedicated to the protection of cultural property, based in Kyiv, and will soon send a mission of heritage experts on the spot.
From the start of the war, the Director-General of UNESCO initiated a series of emergency measures to prevent destruction as much as possible. The Organization has provided technical advice to cultural professionals in the field to protect buildings and inventory works, shelters have been identified to secure objects that could be moved, fire-fighting devices have also been reinforced .
UNESCO has also supported the Ukrainian authorities in marking cultural sites with the distinctive emblem of the blue shield. Therefore, any violation is considered a violation of international law and can be prosecuted against its perpetrators.