The United Nations has decided adding the historic capital of the Black Sea city of Odesa in Ukraine to the list of World Heritage sites to recognize the “international value of this place and the duty of all people to protect it” as the city is at risk of destruction.
The 21 member countries of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved the decision with six votes, one against and 14 abstentions.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February last year and bombed Odesa several times, has repeatedly tried to delay the vote.
“As the war continues, these documents embody our determination to ensure that this city, which has been the subject of global turmoil, is protected from destruction,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay after the election.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who requested the registration in October, received the names.
The responsibility is to help protect Odesa’s cultural heritage, and to make them get money and technical support from the international community.
“Today Odesa has UNESCO protection,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.
“I thank my friends who help protect our pearl from Russian enemies.”
‘Glorious historical past’
Founded in the late 18th century near the site of a captured Ottoman fortress, Odesa’s location on the Black Sea turned it into one of the most important ports in the Russian Empire.
Its role as a trading center brought great wealth and made it one of the most famous cities in Eastern Europe.
The city’s most famous landmarks include its Opera House, which became a symbol of courage when it reopened in June 2022, and the grand staircase leading to the harbor, immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin.
Although Odesa was badly damaged in the Second World War, its famous mid-grid low-rise, 19th-century buildings largely survived.
Since the Russian invasion, Ukrainians have rushed to protect the city’s monuments and buildings with sandbags and barricades.
In July 2022, parts of the large glass roof and windows of the Museum of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1899, were damaged.
UNESCO said it had already helped restore the building, as well as the Odesa Museum of Modern Art, which was also damaged in the war.
In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused the Western bloc of pushing for what it called “politically motivated” anti-establishment measures.
“It was prepared hastily, without respecting UNESCO’s mandate,” the foreign ministry said, stressing that only six countries voted in favor.
Moscow cited Odesa’s “long history as part of Russia” and insisted that the “only threat” that Odesa faced was from the “patriotic Ukrainian regime” that demolished several monuments in the city.
Following an investigation by residents, last year city officials removed a statue of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, who is believed to be the founder of the city, as part of ‘de-Russification’ efforts.
Ukraine says the city, the country’s third largest, flourished before Catherine the Great and that Odesa dates back to the 1500s when it was known as Hadzhybei.
Ukraine is not a member of the UNESCO committee, which is currently led by Saudi Arabia.
Under the UNESCO convention of 1972, accepted by both Ukraine and Russia, the signatories have pledged to “help protect the designated sites” and “must refrain from deliberate actions” that could damage World Heritage sites.