I thank all our briefers for their insight, information and facts provided. Their accounts, from different perspectives join in one main goal: help preserve cultural heritage of Ukraine.
The military aggression of Russia in Ukraine has been going on, relentlessly, for 142 days. It has caused immense suffering, killed thousands of civilians, with entire cities reduced to rubble, large scale destruction of civilian infrastructure, millions of refugees and a severe worldwide food crisis.
But the consequences of this war that is impacting everything go far beyond physical damage: they include the very historical and cultural identity of Ukraine, the diversity and splendor of a country’s rich cultural history. The right to exist of Ukraine as a country, as a nation, is under attack.
As we just heard, UNESCO has verified so far over 160 sites, damaged or destroyed, – among which religious’ sites, museums, theatres, historic buildings, monuments, and libraries. More than 2100 Education institutions have suffered from bombing and shelling, including kindergarten, schools, universities and research centers.
Yesterday, the Russian army attacked deliberately a civilian building and a cultural centre in the city of Vinnytsia, killing more than 20 people and injuring scores of others, many of them critically. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the continued targeting of any civilian objects, including hospitals, medical facilities and shelters.
The Kharkiv State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, for whoever has been there, was once a sight to behold. It has been damaged beyond repair.
Mariupol Museum and the Makarivska Public Library in Kyiv that contain unique art and literature, have been destroyed.
Kharkiv, a Unesco creative city for music, with many cultural facilities, libraries, museums, art galleries and theatres, is under constant shelling.
The list would, unfortunately and heartbreakingly, be long, very long.
Whether such attacks are indiscriminate or targeted, the consequences of losing cultural heritage are dreadful. In the face of such widespread damage or destruction, it hard not to believe that the sites are being targeted deliberately, putting the architecture of Ukraine’s identity at serious risk. They constitute war crimes and must be fully investigated.
This aspect of the war of aggression in Ukraine doesn’t come as a surprise. Didn’t Kremlin say, on the eve of the invasion, that Ukraine had never held “real statehood”, and that Ukraine “was an integral part of Russia’s own culture and spiritual space”? Haven’t we heard more than once by a former Russian president, that maybe in one or two years, Ukraine may not even exist?
Only the people of Ukraine have the right to decide on their collective memory and shared history. We cannot accept to go back to those past times when the mighty would decide who has the right to exist and not.
The Russian propaganda claims that this is a war of “de-nazification”; as it turns out this is an attempt for “de-ukrainization” of 40 million people, a campaign of cultural erasure.
A report by international legal scholars and genocide experts, released on 26 May, by the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights concluded that there is a “very serious risk of genocide” in Ukraine, citing the “destruction of cultural and sacred sites” as an indicator.
International humanitarian law protects cultural heritage sites during armed conflict. The 1954 Hague Convention, to which Russia is a State Party, requires all state parties to refrain from targeting cultural sites and collections repositories. UNSC resolution 2347, adopted unanimously in 2017 has for the first time made the protection of cultural heritage a security imperative. It is part of the international law.
It is therefore vital that cultural heritage destruction is included in the on-going war crimes investigations. We support every effort to ensure accountability for any violations of international law.
This war has lasted for far too long. We call on Russia to stop, withdraw its forces and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, its identity, its right to be who they want to.
Culture is a reflection of a community or an entire nation as it provides a sense of belonging, of roots, ancestry and of continuity. It is a communication means with others, neighbors, the world. It is also an economic driver for groups, communities and a country as a whole.
Any attack on culture is an assault to the core belonging of a nation. This is what is happening in Ukraine today.
We should not accept it and must held those responsible to account.