UNESCO Adds Two Historic Ukrainian Sites to its List of World Heritage in Danger

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Friday's addition to UNESCO’s danger list includes the iconic St. Sophia Cathedral in the capital Kyiv and the medieval centre in the western city of Lviv.

Two major historical sites in Ukraine are in danger of destruction due to the war with Russia, the UN’s heritage body UNESCO said on Friday.

They include the iconic St. Sophia Cathedral in the capital Kyiv and the medieval centre in the western city of Lviv. The two sites, which have been placed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, are central to Ukraine’s culture and history.

UNESCO said the conditions to fully protect the sites could not be met.

“Faced with the risk of direct attack, these sites are also vulnerable to the shockwaves caused by the bombing of the two cities,” the group said its World Heritage Committee had concluded.

It added that the decision to put those two on the list of sites “in danger” was a reminder to UN member states about their responsibility to contribute to their protection and would “open the door” to further financial and technical aid.

Friday’s decision was made at the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee, which is being held in Saudi Arabia. The committee maintains UNESCO’s World Heritage List and oversees the conservation of the sites.

Russia, which launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, has assured the UN that its armed forces are taking “necessary precautions” to prevent damage, though this is disputed by Kyiv.

Moscow’s bombing of Ukraine has sometimes drawn criticism from UNESCO. In July, the organisation condemned the bombing of a building just outside Lviv’s historic old town.

The latest additions to UNESCO’s danger list come after Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odesa was added in January. Russian forces have launched multiple attacks on the city, a cultural hub known for its 19th-century architecture.

Ukraine’s Deputy Culture Minister Anastasia Bondar welcomed Friday’s move. “We are very happy to have a very rich history and culture of our country, and we would like to say that it has been over thousands of years, and we try to preserve it for our future generations. So it’s very much important that the whole world community will join us also.”

Lviv was founded in the Middle Ages and has maintained much of its architectural and cultural heritage as an administrative, religious, and commercial centre from the 13th to the 20th centuries. It was added to the World Heritage List in 1998.

The gold-domed St. Sophia Cathedral, meanwhile, was built in the 11th century and was designed to rival the Hagia Sophia in modern-day Turkey, which was then part of Constantinople. It is one of the few surviving buildings from that age.

The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Caves, is a sprawling complex of monasteries and churches – some underground – that were founded at around the same time as the cathedral.

Inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger is meant to rally urgent international support for conservation efforts. The list includes more than 50 sites around the world.