Protecting Ukraine’s invaluable heritage

Church personnel inspect damages inside the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa, Ukraine, Sunday, July 23, 2023, following Russian missile attacks. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

By ShareAmerica

In the early hours of July 23, 2023, a Russian missile struck Transfiguration Cathedral, severely damaging the largest church in Odesa, Ukraine.

Woman holding her hand over her mouth in dismay (© Jae C. Hong/AP)
A woman outside the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral, destroyed in Russian missile attacks July 23, 2023 (© Jae C. Hong/AP)

In the days that followed, people of the city came to see with their own eyes the large section of roof destroyed by the missile, the collapsed altar and the rubble strewn across the place where they had prayed. Their sorrow was matched by determination.

“They are trying to destroy the identity of the city,” Odesa resident Oleksii Khalykhin told The New York Times. “Now we are trying to do everything possible to make sure that Odesa’s culture and heritage lives in the souls of its people.”

More than 100 religious sites across Ukraine have been deliberately attacked since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022. These attacks violate the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

As of December 13, 2023, UNESCO has verified damage to 333 sites since the start of the Russian invasion — 125 religious sites, 146 buildings of historical and/or artistic interest, 29 museums, 19 monuments, 13 libraries and one archive.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced in July 2023 that Italy would assist in the rebuilding of Transfiguration Cathedral.

“The attacks on Odesa, the deaths of innocent people, and the destruction of the Transfiguration Cathedral deeply saddens us,” Meloni said. “Italy, with its unique experience in restoration in the world, is ready to join the reconstruction of the cathedral and other treasures of Ukraine’s cultural heritage.”

Woman fixing crack on wall covered with street art (© Andrew Kravchenko/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images)
Conservation specialists from Italy restore Banksy’s “David and Goliath” mural painted on the wall of a bombed-out residential building, October 10, 2023, in Borodyanka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. (© Andrew Kravchenko/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images)

Italy’s efforts are part of a broader global effort to support, preserve, and restore Ukraine’s unique cultural and spiritual heritage, including:

A 1,500 year-old golden tiara, inlaid with precious stones (© AP)
This 1,500-year-old golden tiara, inlaid with precious stones — one of the world’s most valuable artifacts from the rule of Attila the Hun — was stolen by Russian troops from a museum in Melitopol, Ukraine, in February 2023. (© AP)

Serhii Revenko, a Ukrainian 3D-scanning consultant in Kyiv working with UNESCO to monitor damage to Ukrainian cultural heritage sites via satellite, urged the international community to preserve Ukrainian heritage “at all costs.”

“Our cultural inheritance is extremely vulnerable during the war,” Revenko said in December 2023. “Culture is what we are and what we have been. It is what created us as Ukrainian people. It is our identity, and we cannot afford to lose it. It’s what we want to pass on to the next generations.”