Unesco has condemned “in the strongest terms” repeated Russian attacks on the Ukrainian city of Odesa this past weekend. Important cultural sites in the Black Sea port were damaged including the city’s Transfiguration Cathedral.
The historic centre of Odesa was declared an endangered World Heritage Site in January. Audrey Azoulay, Unesco’s director-general, says in a statement: “This outrageous destruction marks an escalation of violence against cultural heritage of Ukraine. I strongly condemn this attack against culture, and I urge the Russian Federation to take meaningful action to comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 World Heritage Convention.”
Azoulay visited Odesa in April and Unesco said it would be sending a field mission to the city “to conduct a preliminary assessment of damages”.
The Transfiguration Cathedral, originally completed by the Italian architect Francesco Frappoli in 1808, was destroyed under the dictator Joseph Stalin in 1936 and rebuilt in the 2000s. It was the most symbolic architectural casualty of the recent bombings. The Russian Orthodox bishop Patriarch Kirill, a vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine, consecrated the renovated cathedral in 2010. The Odesa diocese posted dramatic footage of the immediate aftermath of the attack and of city residents gathering to save icons and clear rubble from the ruins.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence denied that it had targeted the cathedral, saying it was only going after “military and terrorist infrastructure of the Kyiv region,” and claimed that the damage was likely the result of being hit by a Ukrainian air defence missile. Russia launched retaliatory strikes after Ukrainian drones hit the Kerch Bridge in Russian-occupied Crimea on 17 July.
Yuri Kruk, the head of the Ukrainian military command of the Odesa district, says in a statement that it was “the largest blow of the enemy across the historic centre of the city of Odesa since the beginning of the war”. The House of Scientists in the 19th century Tolstoy Palace was among other severely damaged buildings.
Oleh Kiper, the Ukrainian military governor of Odesa reported on his Telegram channel that 25 architectural monuments were damaged by Russia’s latest attack.
Earlier this month a Russian missile strike in western Ukraine killed 10 and destroyed a historic building in Lviv. The city is also a Unesco World Heritage site. Other strikes in Odesa in recent days damaged the city’s Archaeological Museum, Maritime Museum and Literature Museum.