As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on, World Heritage sites and other cultural assets in Ukraine are in danger of damage or destruction.
According to UNESCO, at least 90 cultural assets in Ukraine, including religious facilities, historic landmarks, and art and other museums, have so far been damaged. They include a Holocaust memorial to pay tribute to the Jews massacred during World War II.
Ukraine is home to seven World Heritage sites including the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv, built in the early 11th century, and the historic district of Lviv in the western part of the country. It is feared that an escalation of battles may affect these facilities and areas.
Each and every piece of these properties and district has a special place in the hearts of Ukrainians, who have cherished those assets so dearly. They are also assets shared by all humanity.
In a statement it released, UNESCO said, “We must safeguard this cultural heritage, as a testimony of the past but also as a vector of peace for the future, which the international community has a duty to protect and preserve for future generations.”
Intentional military attacks on cultural property violate international law.
In 1954, the Hague Convention was adopted with the aim of protecting cultural property in the event of armed conflict. The treaty came into being based on the reflection that numerous historic buildings were destroyed and works of art looted during World War II. Both Russia and Ukraine are signatories to the treaty.
In war-torn Ukraine, staff at art and other museums have sheltered their collections in safer places such as underground facilities. They have also put up emblems indicating the structures are cultural property on their buildings to avoid them becoming targets of attack.
UNESCO has also stepped up its collaboration with experts in Ukraine and has been monitoring the state of World Heritage and other cultural assets via satellite images.
Even in the 21st century, there still is no end to cases of treasures of mankind being lost to armed conflicts.
In Afghanistan, the Islamic group Taliban destroyed the famed Buddhas of Bamiyan. In Syria, the Islamic State militant group destroyed remains in the ancient Roman city of Palmyra.
The preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
The inhumane act of war destroys not only buildings but also culture. The international community must exhaust all its efforts to end the war immediately.