UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay praised the move, saying the “legendary port that has left its mark on film, literature and art” was “thus placed under the enhanced protection of the international community”.
“As the war continues, this inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city … is protected from further destruction,” Azoulay added in a statement.
Russian forces have launched multiple artillery and airstrikes against Odessa since the invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in October called on UNESCO to list Odessa as a World Heritage Site, which recognizes places of “outstanding universal value”. The World Heritage Committee agreed on Wednesday, adding the city’s historic center to the list of endangered sites at the same time.
Changes to the text proposed by Russia delayed the vote in the 21-member committee. In the end, six deputies voted in favour, one voted no and 14 abstained.
Russian deputy Tatiana Dovgalenko denounced the decision, claiming that local citizens had destroyed some of Odessa’s monuments cited to justify the threatened designation.
“Today we witnessed the funeral of the World Heritage Convention,” she said, adding that pressure was rampant and scientific objectivity was “disgracefully violated.”
Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko welcomed the result of the vote, saying it would protect Odessa’s multicultural history.
“It’s a great historic day,” he told reporters. “Odesa is definitely in danger from the large-scale invasion of Russia. … I am very hopeful that the umbrella of UNESCO can at least protect the sky of Odessa and Odessa itself from this barbaric attack by Russians.
Ukraine is not a member of the UNESCO committee.
Under the 1972 UNESCO Convention, ratified by both Ukraine and Russia, signatories commit to “assisting in the protection of the listed sites” and are “obliged to refrain from taking any deliberate action” that could damage World Heritage Sites .
Inclusion on the World Heritage in Danger list is intended to “provide access to international relief mechanisms, both technical and financial, to strengthen property protection and aid its restoration,” according to UNESCO.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Ukraine was home to seven World Heritage Sites, including St. Sophia Cathedral and related monastic buildings in the capital Kyiv. To date, none have been damaged by the war, although UNESCO noted damage to more than 230 cultural buildings in Ukraine.
Azoulay told reporters Odesa’s status was being examined under an “emergency procedure” amid the ongoing fighting. She said “precise satellite surveillance” was first used to monitor Ukraine’s World Heritage Sites.
On its website, UNESCO describes Odesa as the only city in Ukraine to fully preserve the urban fabric of a multinational southern port city typical of the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Two other sites were listed as World Heritage in Danger on Wednesday: the Ancient Yemeni Kingdom of Saba and the Rachid Karami International Fair in Tripoli, Lebanon.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine