‘A great victory’: Odesa mayor reacts to UNESCO Heritage List inclusion
In an interview with UN News, Gennady Trukhanov, the Mayor of Odesa, describes the inclusion of the historic city centre and port in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a great victory, which will help in the protection of the Odesa’s cultural treasures.
Mr. Trukhanov spoke to UN News shortly after the decision was announced, on Wednesday, and explained the laborious process that led to the inclusion.
Gennady Trukhanov We applied for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List back in 2009 and were accepted into the provisional list. But the procedure dragged on and, with the onset of the war, there was a real threat that our architectural monuments would be destroyed.
So, in the first month of the invasion by Russian troops, I turned to our Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, in order to apply for the accelerated inclusion of our historical centre and port in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
We are very grateful to UNESCO for its support. We held a lot of meetings online, and UNESCO provided us with consultants who helped us to complete our dossier correctly. Almost every day we were in close contact with them and, without their support and legal advice, it would have been very difficult to do all this work.
We have a very difficult job ahead of us: a UNESCO commission will come to us within the next couple of months, and we need to create a body to monitor the preservation of our cultural heritage.
UN News: Since the first days of the invasion, Odesa has been regularly attacked. What have the city authorities done to protect the historical part of the city?
Gennady Trukhanov: We covered all our monuments with sandbags, but it is difficult to ensure complete security. For example, a blast from a rocket that was shot down damaged an architectural monument, the Vorontsov Palace on Prymorskyi Boulevard, part of the roof was destroyed, and the windows were smashed out.
Of course, there’s nothing we can do in the case of a direct hit, but we can protect our monuments from a blast wave, from fragments. The Opera House was surrounded by bags for a long time, but later we partially unblocked it in order to show that today Ukraine still lives, and that we support our cultural values.
Our colleagues in Italy, who have extensive experience of cooperation with UNESCO, suggested that we transfer especially valuable paintings from our museums to them for temporary storage, since we constantly experience power outages, heat supply, and paintings need a certain temperature regime. We are considering taking advantage of this offer.
UN News: Despite the war, does cultural life continue in Odesa today?
Gennady Trukhanov: Yes, cultural life in Odesa continues.
Premieres and performances are being held at the Opera House in compliance with all security measures; this means that attendance numbers are limited to the capacity of the bomb shelter.
We think that engaging in cultural activities is therapy for the population, so that they don't get too depressed. The war has been going on for almost a year, and it can be difficult to maintain morale.
UN News: The port of Odesa is one of the three participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. How has life in the city changed since the program started?
Gennady Trukhanov: I was born and raised in Odesa and, when the port stopped working, ships did not sail, and the port was silent. it was very sad to see.
But since the beginning of the implementation of the Initiative, which became possible thanks to international assistance and the personal efforts of the UN Secretary General, it was possible to start the work of the port and restore the transportation of humanitarian cargo.
For port workers, and all the companies whose activities are connected with the port, it was of great importance, as well as for all of us, and for the whole world. It's like a return to the life we had before.
We would like the Initiative to be extended, although we understand that all this is not easy. We support these efforts, we are grateful for them. and we hope that they will be crowned with success.