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UNESCO grants Odesa’s historic centre World Heritage in Danger status

Paris, France

The United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, said on Wednesday that it had designated the historic centre of Odesa, a strategic port city on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, a World Heritage in Danger site.

The status, awarded by a UNESCO panel meeting in Paris, is designed to help protect Odesa’s cultural heritage, which has been under threat since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and enable access to financial and technical international aid.

Ukraine Odesa opera house

A man walks next to the Opera Theatre building in the city centre, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine, on 25th January, 2023. PICTURE: Reuters/Serhii Smolientsev

Odesa has been bombed several times by Russia since its invasion of Ukraine on 24th February, 2022.

In July 2022, part of the large glass roof and windows of Odesa’s Museum of Fine Arts, inaugurated in 1899, were destroyed.

In a statement UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said that Odesa, “free city, world city, legendary port” had made its mark on cinema, literature and the arts and was thus “placed under the strengthened protection of the international community.”

“As the war continues, this inscription reflects our collective determination to protect this city from greater destruction,” Azoulay said in a statement.

Earlier on Wednesday, UNESCO inscribed the Landmarks of the Ancient Kingdom of Saba, Marib in Yemen and Rachid Karami International Fair-Tripoli in Lebanon to its list of World Heritage in Danger sites.

The debate over Odesa, however, took hours as Russia unsuccessfully tried to have the vote postponed.

Founded in the final years of the 18th century, near the site of a captured Ottoman fortress, Odesa’s location on the shores of the Black Sea allowed it to become one of the most important ports in the Russian empire.

Its status as a trading hub brought significant wealth and made it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Eastern Europe.

Ukraine Odesa heritage building

A view shows a building in the historical centre, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine, on 25th January, 2023. PICTURE: Reuters/Serhii Smolientsev

The city’s most famous historic sites include the Odesa Opera House, which became a symbol of resilience when it reopened in June, 2022, and the giant stairway to the harbour, immortalised in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin.

Although the city suffered significant damage in World War II, its famed central grid square of low-rise 19th century buildings survived mostly intact.

Odesa was one of Ukraine’s main tourist hubs before Russia’s invasion. War changed all that, as the Black Sea became a battlezone. Sea mines still occasionally wash up near the city’s shoreline.



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