On Thursday, UNESCO announced that it was “gravely concerned” about threats to cultural heritage sites across Ukraine amid escalating violence by Russian forces. The organization said it was now trying to meet with Ukrainian museum officials to discuss safeguarding cultural property at risk amid the ongoing conflict, and that it plans to hold a session on March 15 to examine the impact of damage sustained across the country so far.
Concerns over destruction to arts institutions and public buildings are multiplying following attacks in historic squares in Kharkiv and Chernihiv, as well as burnings and missile strikes targeting a local history museum in Ivankiv and the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv. Historic complexes in Lviv and Kyiv’s Cathedral of Saint Sophia, which is located near a group of buildings that Russian forces have targeted, are among those that experts have said warrant special protection.
Both UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund, a New York nonprofit that tracks status of cultural heritage sites around the globe, have invoked the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which calls for protections for cultural property from military attacks. The Ukraine is home to seven UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites.
“Damage to museums and heritage sites extends far beyond physical destruction,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, president and CEO of World Monuments Fund, in a statement to ARTnews.
In response to the damage inflicted in Kyiv last week, the United States National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) called the intentional destruction of museums in the city by the Russian military “reckless,” adding that it violates the “reasonable expectations of civil society and the treaty obligations of which the United States, Russia, and Ukraine are all signatories.”
Montlaur pointed to ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq in 2014 that has kept refugees from returning as an example of the long-term effects of cultural property erasure. “The psychological toll on communities lingers on even after fighting has ended,” she added.