The United Nations cultural agency Unesco has added the historic center of the Ukrainian city of Odessa to its world heritage list, describing it as “the duty of all mankind” to protect it.
The status, awarded by a Unesco panel in Paris on Wednesday, is designed to help protect the port city’s cultural heritage, which has been under threat since the Russian invasion.
“As the war continues, this inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always risen from the sorrows of the world, is preserved from further destruction,” said the Director General of Unesco, Audrey Azoulay, in a press release.
The 21 member states of the World Heritage Committee approved the designation with six votes in favor, one against and 14 abstentions.
Russia repeatedly tried to delay the vote and denounced the final decision, saying the only threat to Odessa came from the “nationalist regime in Ukraine”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who applied for the listing in October to protect the city from Russian bombardment, welcomed the decision.
“I am grateful to the partners who are helping to protect our pearl from attacks by Russian invaders,” he said. tweeted Wednesday. Odessa is often described as the “Pearl of the Black Sea” of Ukraine.
Since the Russian invasion, Ukrainians have rushed to try to protect the city’s monuments and buildings with sandbags and barricades.
The city has also been added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, which, according to Unesco, “gives it access to enhanced international technical and financial assistance” to protect or, if necessary, rehabilitate it.
The agency added that it had already participated in the repairs of the Odessa Museum of Fine Arts and the Odessa Museum of Modern Art after damage suffered since the start of the war.
Odessa flourished after Russian Empress Catherine the Great decreed in the late 18th century that it would be the country’s modern sea gateway.
Its location on the shores of the Black Sea allowed it to become one of the most important ports of the Russian Empire, but the extent of Russian cultural influence on the city is a controversial subject.
A draft ruling ahead of the Unesco vote described Empress Catherine II as having ‘founded’ the city, drawing criticism from Ukraine, objecting to what she saw as a ‘politicized’ depiction of the city. city.
Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko and Odessa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov, in an open letter seen by Agence France-Presse, disputed this, saying the city was thriving long before the Russian empress arrived.
“Odessa’s continuous development as a port city dates back to the 15th century,” they said, and was known as Hadzhybei.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused a group of Western countries of imposing what it called a “politically motivated” decision in violation of normal procedures.
“It was prepared in a hurry, without meeting the current high standards of Unesco,” said the Foreign Ministry, stressing that only six countries had voted in favor.
Moscow pointed to Odessa’s “glorious historical past as part of the Russian state” and insisted that “the only threat” Odessa faced came from the “nationalist regime in Ukraine” which destroyed a number of monuments in the city.
In December, Ukrainian authorities in Odessa pulled down a statue of Catherine II as part of their effort to de-Russify the city, after questioning residents about what to do with it.
Six other Ukrainian sites have already been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including St. Sophia’s Cathedral in the capital Kyiv and the historic center of the western city of Lviv.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.