War in Ukraine: more than 150 cultural sites damaged after four months of conflict

War in Ukraine: more than 150 cultural sites damaged after four months of conflict

The armored columns descended from Belarus to kyiv on the third day of the invasion. On their way, in Ivankiv, a renovated museum housed 25 paintings by the painter Maria Primachenko.

After their passage, it burned, taking these works of naive art with it in the fire. In four months of war, Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has recorded the damage to at least 152 Ukrainian cultural sites. “Throughout history, heritage has been a direct or collateral victim of several wars. For some belligerents, destruction becomes a strategy to weaken the adversary”, protests Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the world heritage center of the UN institution with Le Figaro.
To deal with this, France and Italy brought a resolution to the UN in 2017, defining as a war crime certain destruction of cultural property. “The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime,” said Irina Bokova, then director general of Unesco. It has become a tactic of war to damage societies over the long term, in a strategy of cultural cleansing. This is why the defense of cultural heritage is much more than a cultural issue, it is a security imperative, inseparable from the defense of human lives”. His successor, Audrey Azoulay, affirmed that “cultural heritage, in all its forms, can never be targeted”.

Three Ukrainian regions concentrate three-quarters of the damage: that of Donetsk (about 45) where the main battles are taking place; that of Kharkiv (40) where the Russian army was pushed back and that of kyiv (26). Le Figaro looks back on 7 of the most symbolic destructions since the start of the “special military operation”.
The Ivankiv Museum

The Ivankiv museum, north of kyiv, and its collection of naive art caused the first emotion around the destruction of heritage. Starting with the Ukrainian Minister of Culture, who announced that he had made a request to Unesco to revoke Russia’s membership of the organization. “The loss is immeasurable,” wrote Oksana Lyniv, a conductor from the west of the country, who last summer became the first woman to conduct an opera at the German Bayreuth festival. “Among the many atrocities committed in Ukraine over the past few days, Russian forces have begun to destroy Ukrainian cultural heritage,” James Cuno told the Los Angeles Times, director of the J. Paul Getty Trust museum, located in Los Angeles.

The city museum of Okhtyrka

Located between Kharkiv and Sumy, Okhtrya was the scene of fierce fighting against the Russian army until its withdrawal. On March 9, the city museum, which notably housed documents dealing with the Okhtyrka Cossack regiment of the 17th and 18th centuries, was bombed. It dated from the 19th century.

The Vasil Tarnovsky Museum in Chernihiv

Located on the outskirts of Chernihiv, a city northeast of kyiv, the museum housed the collection of Vasil Tarnovsky since 1901. The latter had amassed many historical objects including personal weapons of Ukrainian hetmans, former military commanders between the XV and XVIII century. Most of the collection was later moved to another museum, but major pieces still remained there like some manuscripts. On March 11, a strike destroyed a large part of the museum.

Saint George Church in Zavorychi

Its blue walls, green roofs and golden domes were the pride of the villagers of Zavorychi, about 70 kilometers from kyiv. “They attacked our church; the boys do not enter it. They went and hit our church. Russian world. This is your Russian world!” laments a resident on a video, pointing to the burning roof. Built in 1873, Saint Georges Church burned down after a shell pierced its roof on 7 March.

Mariupol Theater

Mariupol was a symbol in many ways for the Russian army. In 2014, during its previous invasion of Ukraine, the city rallied to the separatists and was then taken over by the regular army. From the first day of the invasion, its capture became an issue, especially since its port was strategic. In order to protect themselves from the incessant and indistinct bombardments, hundreds of civilians took refuge in the theater built in 1960. On March 16, Kremlin artillery bombarded the theater killing between 300 and 600 civilians, according to several estimates.

The Church of the Ascension in Lukashovka

The only monument in the village of Lukashovka, on the edge of Chernihiv, the Church of the Ascension was erected in 1913 in a neo-Byzantine style. The Bolshevik Revolution will decommission it until 1988. After many works, it will even be registered on the national list of cultural heritage sites. Before their retreat from the Chernihiv region, the Russian army which used it as their headquarters will set it on fire. The Ukrainian forces will then find bodies in the vicinity of the church, suspecting its use as an expeditious tribunal.

The Hermitage of All Saints in Sviatohirsk


The Sviatohirsk Monastery has a huge religious complex in the Donbass. In the early 2000s, this hermitage replaced a stone building destroyed during the Soviet era. On March 12, the Russians, with an airstrike, bombed a nearby bridge. The refugees, as well as some priests are affected. On June 4, a new bombardment definitively destroyed the monastery of Sainte-Montagne. Russians “continue to assert their inability to be part of the civilized world,” Ukraine’s Culture and Information Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko posted on Facebook.


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