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At least 53 cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed since the Russian invasion in February, and destruction continues in cities besieged or bombarded by forces from Moscow, according to the United Nations Educational, science and culture.
“We have a damage control meeting every day and the list is growing,” said Ernesto Ottone, deputy director general for culture, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on Friday. “We are very concerned about the situation, not only humanitarian but also for the protection of cultural heritage. The heritage of humanity is indeed in danger.
Ottone and Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, said they only named sites where damage had been verified. So far, none of Ukraine’s seven World Heritage sites, including St. Sophia’s Cathedral in the capital kyiv, have been hit.
Audrey Azoulay, who heads Unesco, wrote to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last month reminding Moscow of its obligations to protect cultural sites under the 1954 Hague Convention, including Russia and the Ukraine are signatories. Unesco said Lavrov responded that “the Russian Federation is well aware of its obligations under international humanitarian law, including the 1954 Hague Convention”.
Ukrainian sites damaged or destroyed include 29 churches, several museums and war memorials, and theaters in Mariupol and Kharkiv. Kharkiv is the most affected region in terms of sites affected, followed by Donetsk.
Little information has come out of Chernihiv, another heavily bombed city, but Eloundou Assomo said he was concerned about the historic city center and its millennium-old buildings.
The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage in times of conflict is considered a war crime under international law, Unesco officials noted.
This post has been updated to include a response from Sergei Lavrov