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UNESCO adds Ukraine’s ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’ to its World Heritage List

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PARIS — The historic center of the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa was declared a World Heritage Site on Wednesday and immediately classified as “at risk,” following an expedited enrollment process by the UN’s cultural agency that could pave the way for more financial and technical aid.

Odessa, also often described as Ukraine’s ‘Jewel of the Black Sea’, has suffered repeated Russian attacks since the start of the war last February.

“This inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always triumphed over global upheavals, is preserved from further destruction,” UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay said in a statement after the agency’s World Heritage Committee met. came for an extraordinary session. in Paris. Azoulay called Odessa “a metropolis” that “has left its mark on cinema, literature and art.”

While Odessa has been spared attacks on a scale that has leveled other Ukrainian communities, concerns about the city’s heritage prompted UNESCO to accelerate the application, which was officially submitted in October. Throughout the summer, they battled damaged parts of the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, more than a century old.

The city’s rich history dates back to when it was the crown jewel of Imperial Russia. Today, UNESCO considers it “a unique example of a city” in Ukraine that combines “different cultural traditions and a harmonious architectural polyphony”.

It was once considered one of the country’s more Russia-friendly cities, but attitudes have changed. As Russian attacks on the city intensified last year, Ukrainian troops and volunteers rushed to fortify the city’s legendary buildings – many of them built in the Italian Baroque style – including the iconic Opera and Ballet Theater, which is one of the oldest of Ukraine.

Monuments were covered with sandbags and barricades were erected all over the city. In December, local officials removed a statue of Russia’s Empress Catherine the Great — often seen as a founder of the city — as part of an effort to remove signs of historic Russian influence in Ukraine.

Odessa’s beloved opera house plays the leading role in war drama

Russian representatives to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee repeatedly tried to block a vote on Wednesday, but the city’s inclusion on the list was finally approved by the 21-member committee. Archaeological Sites in Yemen and a fair in Lebanon were also added to the World Heritage List.

Wednesday’s decision to enlist Odessa underscores how Ukrainians are mourning not only a massive loss of life, but also the destruction of cultural heritage across their country. At least 236 cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged since the Russian invasion nearly a year ago, according to UNESCO.

Among the damaged sites are monuments, libraries and historic buildings, Krista Pikkat, director of the agency’s Culture and Emergencies Entity, said in an interview with The Post in December. The count represents “the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

In Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine, fighting badly damaged the opera and ballet theater last year, and in Mariupol, southeastern Ukraine, Russian attacks destroyed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater, which had been used as a shelter for hundreds of people.

I have always dreamed of visiting my ancestral home in Odessa. But not this way.

The historic center of Odessa is the eighth UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ukraine, joining St. Sophia Cathedral in the capital Kyiv and the historic center of Lviv in western Ukraine. They are all “considered to be of exceptional value to humanity” by the UN agency.

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky formalized Odessa’s candidacy in October, he called on the UN agency to “send a clear signal that the world will not turn a blind eye to the destruction of our common history.” Russia is a state party to the 1972 UNESCO Convention that obliges it “not to take any deliberate action likely to cause damage” to World Heritage Sites.

But in his October speech, Zelensky also suggested that Odessa’s designation as a World Heritage Site might by itself be insufficient to deter Russian attacks, citing strikes that only just missed St. Sophia’s Cathedral that month.

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