Unesco chief vows to help rebuild Ukraine’s heritage and culture—but $6.9bn investment is needed

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The director general of Unesco has pledged to help rebuild Ukraine’s shattered culture sector after travelling to the war-torn country earlier this week. During her visit, Audrey Azoulay told the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that “in order to rebuild but also to redress the situation, it will be necessary to invest $6.9bn in the cultural sector in Ukraine over the next ten years”, a Unesco statement says.

Azoulay carried out a two-day mission to Ukraine, visiting Kyiv, Chernihiv and Odesa, reaffirming “the organisation’s support to the population [as well as] to advance the reconstruction of the country’s cultural sector”.

A detailed Unesco report outlines the huge overall cost of recovery and reconstruction for culture in Ukraine, estimating “short-term needs” (2023–26) at $2.3bn and “medium- to long-term needs” (2027–33) at $4.6bn, totalling $6.9bn.

“The early stage is expected to include damage assessment and documentation, emergency measures for cultural immovable and movable properties (including debris removal), stabilisation and conservation measures for cultural assets, storage management, preparedness plans, and immediate conservation to prevent further loss and looting,” the report says.

Azoulay inside the Chernihiv Regional Youth Center

©UNESCO/Dmytro Kuyznietsov

A comprehensive recovery plan is needed to rebuild the sector, adds the document. “This plan should include alignment with international standards, enhanced legal protection and governance, the development of protocols and guidelines for protecting and recovering cultural heritage, and a comprehensive digital architecture to document and manage cultural property.”

In a series of tweets, Azoulay outlined her itinerary in Ukraine, highlighting Unesco’s recent emergency measures which include “mobilising more than $10m to strengthen its response to the education emergency [in the country]”.

Unesco will also provide a series of on-site practical reconstruction training sessions for Ukrainian architects, conservators and urban planners, she added on social media. Unesco continues to list and assess the damage done to Ukrainian cultural sites since the war began in February last year.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, Azoulay announced meanwhile that “Unesco will develop this year with the authorities a complete rehabilitation project for the historic centre, inscribed on the country’s World Heritage Tentative list”.

The Odesa plaque World Heritage inscription

©UNESCO/Dmytro Kuyznietsov

In February, Unesco voted to add the historic city centre of the Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Odesa to its list of endangered World Heritage sites. The cosmopolitan city, which has ancient Greek roots and was under Ottoman control for centuries, is known for its architectural landmarks such as the Odesa Opera House and the giant harbour stairway immortalised in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin.

Russia’s Unesco commission claimed in a statement however that the decision to award Odesa endangered status was “politically biased and scientifically unsubstantiated” and had been pushed through with only minority support.

“Following the inscription [of Odesa], Unesco will further strengthen actions on the ground, prioritising the preservation and digitisation of artistic and documentary heritage while maintaining the protection of heritage buildings endangered by artillery fire,” Unesco says in the wake of Azoulay’s visit.

It will also launch a project to improve the conservation of Odesa’s archaeological museum collections with funding from the foundation of the Unesco Goodwill Ambassador, Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière.

Our report last year highlighted though how the war in Ukraine underpins the fraught politics of Unesco.

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