Russian forces have shifted to using a «scorched earth» tactic on the frontlines, deliberately and cynically shelling civilian infrastructure in the rear. After Moscow withdrew from the «grain deal,» strong shelling of Odessa began with missile strikes on the port and surrounding areas. As a result of the strike on the city on the night of July 23rd, the main Orthodox cathedral of the city, the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, was significantly damaged. Additionally, 25 buildings in Odessa’s historical center, which is under UNESCO protection, were destroyed. These buildings date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries and are architectural landmarks. International experts will carry out an assessment of the damage inflicted by the Russian occupiers on Odessa’s center, which is a World Heritage Site.
The barbaric destruction of the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral and the buildings in the historical center of Odessa has caused an outcry, both in Ukraine and abroad. Russian media, claiming «high accuracy of strikes» by the Russian army «solely against Ukrainian military targets,» assure that the occupiers «do not strike social infrastructure and religious buildings» and deny all accusations of destroying Ukraine’s cultural and historical monuments.
The Kremlin’s statements that Russia is not involved in the destruction of cultural heritage and religious buildings in Ukraine are cynical lies, refuted not only by official data collected by the Ukrainian side but also by international partners of Ukraine. As of July 20th, 2023, UNESCO personnel have verified and documented the damage to 270 cultural sites in Ukraine caused by Russia, including museums, historical buildings, monuments, libraries, and archives.
Besides the destruction of the Odessa cathedral, UNESCO experts have recorded 116 attacks by Russia on religious sites in Ukraine. According to data presented during the Washington Summit on International Religious Freedom in January 2023 by the Institute for Religious Freedom, at least 494 religious structures have been completely destroyed, damaged, or looted as a result of the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Here are a few facts:
In May 2022, the occupiers bombed the Georgievsky Skete of the Holy Assumption Sviatohirsk Lavra in the Donetsk region.
On April 16, 2023, the Russians struck and virtually completely destroyed the Archangel Michael Church located in the Kushuhum community of the Zaporizhzhia region.
In March 2022, the Suleyman Pasha Mosque in Mariupol was shelled, with nearly 90 people present at the time.
At the beginning of the full-scale invasion in March 2022, Russian occupying forces launched missile strikes on Holocaust victims’ memorial complexes, «Babi Yar» in Kyiv and Drobytsky Yar on the outskirts of Kharkiv.
By destroying religious structures and cultural heritage sites, Russia blatantly disregards international legislation, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Any act of aggression by Russia, from plundering museum archives to rocket attacks on religious structures, is considered a violation of international law and can be interpreted as a war crime.