The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, has designated the historic center of Odesa as a World Heritage Site and classified it as being “in danger” during a committee session in Paris on Wednesday, in a nod to the historic importance of a Black Sea port that Russia has battered with missiles as it tries to reconquer Ukraine.
France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, traveled to the city on Thursday in a show of support, but her plans were interrupted by the threat of a Russian missile strike.
“Thanks to a Russian missile, I experienced my first diplomatic bilateral meeting in a shelter,” Ms. Colonna wrote on Twittersharing a photo with Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the United Nations to designate Odesa as an endangered World Heritage Site in October, and the process was fast-tracked at the UN agency out of concern for the damage being done to the city’s many cultural sites. Including the city on the UNESCO list is intended to put pressure on Russia to refrain from attacking Odesa and gives the city access to more financial and technical assistance.
Gennadiy Trukhanov, the city’s mayor, has called Odesa “the intercultural capital of Ukraine,” making it a symbol of Ukrainian identity. Mr. Trukhanov expressed gratitude to UNESCO after the announcement. on Telegramadding that he hoped for “a new level of development, new opportunities and a new Odessa.”
According to the agency, at least 236 cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged since the Russian invasion began, including religious buildings, museums, monuments and libraries.
With access to the Black Sea, the southern port city has long been a place where different cultures have met and mingled. Founded in the late 18th century by Russia’s Empress Catherine the Great, it is home to hundreds of buildings of architectural and cultural importance to both Russians and Ukrainians, making it a prize in the war.
Odesa has come under significant Russian aerial strikes, but Russian troops were unable to capture it last year, with their offensive halted at the city of Mykolaiv about 80 miles to the east. As attacks on Odesa have mounted, volunteers and Ukrainian forces have made efforts to fortify specific buildings, cover monuments with sandbags and erect barricades.
The Odesa Museum of Fine Arts and the Odesa Museum of Modern Art have both been damaged in shelling, and UNESCO promised to repair them.
The city has “left its mark on cinema, literature and the arts,” Audrey Azoulay, the agency’s director general, said in a statement. “This inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always surmounted global upheavals, is preserved from further destruction.”