Since the start of the war, many cultural sites, including churches, monuments, museums and historic buildings, have been partially or completely destroyed in Ukraine. UNESCO has renewed its call for respect for international law and has also expressed its willingness to support the reconstruction of what has been destroyed.

Ukraine: More than 150 cultural sites destroyed in war

Photo by Kharkiv mayor’s office In the photo: Kharkiv residents encase monuments with sandbags.

New data on destruction

New figures on the damage to Ukraine’s cultural sites since the Russian offensive began on 24 February 2022 were published by UNESCO on Thursday. Experts found that 152 cultural sites, including 70 religious buildings, 30 historic buildings, 18 cultural houses, 15 monuments, 12 museums and seven libraries, had been partially or completely destroyed by the fighting.

“These numerous attacks on Ukrainian cultural sites must stop. Cultural heritage in all its forms must never be targeted. I reiterate my call for respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

The UNESCO report says three quarters of the sites that have been destroyed or damaged are in three regions: 45 damaged cultural sites in the Donetsk region where intense fighting is still taking place, 40 damaged cultural sites in the Kharkiv region and 26 damaged cultural sites in the Kyiv region.

Emergency measures to protect cultural sites

Since the outbreak of war, the Director-General of UNESCO has initiated a number of emergency measures to prevent such damage as much as possible. UNESCO gave technical advice to experts in the field to protect buildings and carry out inventories. Shelters have been identified to protect sites which could be relocated and fire protection measures have been strengthened.

UNESCO assisted the Ukrainian authorities in labelling cultural sites with the distinctive emblem of the Blue Shield. This symbol indicates that the site is protected under the 1954 Hague Convention. Thus, any infringement affecting such an object is considered a violation of international law and could be the subject of legal action.

Seven sites in Ukraine are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Luckily, none of them have been damaged.

The UNESCO is helping the Ukrainian authorities to identify and document the damage to cultural sites, which will make it easier to restore them in the future.  UNESCO has already established a fund dedicated to the implementation of measures in support of Ukraine.

UNESCO has initiated the creation of a Kiev-based task force for the protection of cultural property, which will soon send a mission of heritage experts to the field.