UNESCO moves to protect Odesa, designating the city a World Heritage Site
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UNESCO moves to protect Odesa, designating the city a World Heritage Site
School graduates dance by sandbags protecting the front of the Opera Theater for a video to be posted online, in Odesa, Ukraine, June 15, 2022. This most storied of port cities remains Russian President Vladimir Putin’s obsession, not only because it holds the key to the Black Sea, but because its openness and diversity embody all he wants to destroy. (Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times)

by Lauren McCarthy

NEW YORK, NY.- The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, designated the historic center of Odesa, Ukraine, as a World Heritage Site and classified it as being “in danger” during a committee session in Paris on Wednesday, in a nod to the historic importance of a Black Sea port that Russia has battered with missiles as it tries to reconquer Ukraine.

France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, traveled to the city Thursday in a show of support, but her plans were interrupted by the threat of a Russian missile strike.

“Thanks to a Russian missile, I experienced my first diplomatic bilateral meeting in a shelter,” Colonna wrote on Twitter, sharing a photo with Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the U.N. to designate Odesa as an endangered World Heritage Site in October, and the process was fast-tracked at the U.N. agency out of concern for the damage being done to the city’s many cultural sites. Including the city on the UNESCO list is intended to put pressure on Russia to refrain from attacking Odesa and gives the city access to more financial and technical assistance.

Gennadiy Trukhanov, the mayor of Odesa, has said the city “is the intercultural capital of Ukraine,” making it a symbol of the Ukrainian identity that President Vladimir Putin has denied exists and is intent on destroying. Trukhanov expressed gratitude to UNESCO after the announcement on Telegram, adding that he hopes for “a new level of development, new opportunities and a new Odesa.”

According to the agency, at least 236 cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged since the Russian invasion began, including religious buildings, museums, monuments and libraries.

With access to the Black Sea, the southern port city has always been a place where different cultures have met and mingled. Founded in the late 18th century by Russian Empress Catherine the Great, it is home to hundreds of buildings of architectural and cultural importance both to Russians and Ukrainians, making it a prize in the war.

Odesa has come under significant Russian aerial strikes, but Russian troops were unable to capture it last year, as their offensive was stopped as the city of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, about 80 miles to the east. As attacks on Odesa have mounted, volunteers and Ukrainian forces have made efforts to fortify specific buildings, cover monuments with sandbags and erect barricades.

The Odesa Museum of Fine Arts and the Odesa Museum of Modern Art have both been damaged in shelling since the beginning of the war. UNESCO promised to repair them.

The city has “left its mark on cinema, literature and the arts,” Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO, said in a statement. “This inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always surmounted global upheavals, is preserved from further destruction.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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