Ukraine’s Odessa, the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’, added to Unesco World Heritage List | Ukraine

The United Nations cultural agency, Unesco, has added the historic center of the Ukrainian city of Odesa to the World Heritage List, describing it as “the duty of all humanity” to protect it.

The status, awarded by a Unesco panel meeting in Paris on Wednesday, is designed to help protect the port city’s cultural heritage, which has been under threat since Russia’s invasion.

“As the war continues, this inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always risen from the world’s heartbreak, is preserved from further destruction,” UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. statement.

The 21 member states of the World Heritage Committee approved the designation with six votes in favour, one against and 14 abstentions.

Russia repeatedly tried to postpone the vote and denounced the final decision, saying the only threat to Odessa came from the “nationalist regime in Ukraine”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who had requested the listing in October to protect the city from Russian bombing, welcomed the decision.

“I am grateful to our partners who help protect our pearl from the attacks of the Russian invaders,” he said tweeted on Wednesday. Odessa is often described as Ukraine’s “Jewel of the Black Sea”.

Since the Russian invasion, Ukrainians have been rushing to protect the city’s monuments and buildings with sandbags and barricades.

The city was also added to the list of endangered World Heritage Sites, which according to Unesco “gives access to enhanced technical and financial international assistance” to protect or, if necessary, rehabilitate it.

The agency added that it had already helped with repairs to the Odesa Museum of Fine Arts and the Odesa Museum of Modern Art after damage sustained since the start of the war.

Odessa prospered after Russian Empress Catherine the Great decreed in the late 18th century that it would become the country’s modern maritime gateway.

Its location on the shores of the Black Sea made it one of the most important port cities of the Russian Empire, but the extent of Russian cultural influence on the city is a contentious issue.

A draft decision ahead of the Unesco vote described Empress Catherine II as having “founded” the city, drawing criticism from Ukraine, objecting to what it perceived as a “politicized” description of the city.

Ukraine’s culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko and Odessa mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov disputed this in an open letter, seen by Agence France-Presse, saying the city was thriving long before the arrival of the Russian empress.

“Odessa’s continued development as a port city dates back to the 15th century,” they said, and was known as Hadzhybei.

In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused a group of Western countries of pushing through what it called a “politically motivated” decision, contrary to standard operating procedures.

“It was prepared hastily, without respecting UNESCO’s current high standards,” the foreign ministry said, emphasizing that only six countries voted in favour.

Moscow pointed to “Odessa’s glorious historical past as part of the Russian state” and stressed that “the only threat” Odessa faced came from “the nationalist regime in Ukraine”, which tore down a number of monuments in the city .

In December, Ukrainian authorities in Odessa tore down a statue of Catherine II as part of their efforts to de-Russise the city after questioning residents about what to do with it.

Six other Ukrainian sites have already been inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List, including Saint Sophia Cathedral in the capital Kyiv and the historic center of the western city of Lviv.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

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