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  25 Jan 2023, 23:35

Ukraine's Odessa wins UNESCO status despite Russia opposition

PARIS, Jan  25, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - UNESCO on Wednesday added the historic 
centre of Ukraine's port city of Odessa, often described as "the pearl of the 
Black Sea", to its World Heritage List, overcoming opposition from Russia.

 The 21 member states of the UN cultural body's world heritage committee 
approved inscribing designated areas of the city with six votes in favour, one 
against and 14 abstentions.

 Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February last year, tried repeatedly to 
delay the vote to recognise the site's "outstanding universal value" and "the 
duty of all humanity to protect it".

 "While the war continues, this inscription embodies our collective 
determination to ensure that this city, which has always surmounted global 
upheavals, is preserved from further destruction," said UNESCO director-general 
Audrey Azoulay after the decision.

 Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in October officially requested the 
listing to protect it from Russian air strikes.

 Since the Russian invasion, Ukrainians have rushed to try to protect its 
monuments and buildings with sandbags and barricades.

 The site was also added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, which 
UNESCO says "gives it access to reinforced technical and financial 
international assistance" to protect or, if necessary, rehabilitate it.

 The agency added that it had already helped with repairs on the Odessa 
Museum of Fine Arts and the Odessa Museum of Modern Art after damage since the 
beginning of the war.
       
       - Political tensions -
    
       
 Odessa blossomed after Russian Empress Catherine the Great decreed in the 
late 18th century that it would be the country's modern maritime gateway.

  But the extent of Russian cultural influence on the city is a contentious 
topic.

 Tensions had risen ahead of the vote, with Ukraine objecting to what it 
viewed as a "politicised" description of the port city in a draft decision that 
described Empress Catherine II as having "founded" the city.

 Ukraine's Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko and Odessa mayor Gennadiy 
Trukhanov, in an open letter seen by AFP, contested this, saying the city 
thrived long before the Russian empress' arrival.

"The continuous development of Odessa as a port city dates back to the 15th 
century," they said, and was known as Hadzhybei.

 But Russian President Vladimir "Putin's propaganda used the myth of the 
'founding of Odessa by the empress', which appeared in the 19th century, as one 
of the grounds for Russia's territorial claims on Ukrainian cities and the 
beginning of its armed aggression," they added.

Russia's representative to the world heritage committee on Wednesday 
repeatedly criticised what she described as a "poor" application dossier from 
Ukraine, alleging it was mostly drawn from Wikipedia and tourism websites.

 The representative also accused Ukraine of "destroying monuments" in the 
area it sought to protect, and tried unsuccessfully to indefinitely adjourn the 
vote.

  After the decision was adopted, Russia's mission to UNESCO claimed in a 
statement it had been taken "under pressure from the West" and "disregarding 
rules of procedure".

It seethed that the world heritage committee had "ceased to be a platform 
for professional dialogue" and the world heritage status had become a 
"bargaining chip for settling political scores".

In December, Ukrainian authorities in Odessa pulled down a statue of 
Catherine II as part of its efforts to de-Russify the city, after polling 
residents on what to do with it.

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


 

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