Zelensky calls for expulsion of Russia from Unesco

This article was first published by the Museums Association.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has called for Russia to be expelled from Unesco after Russian forces set fire to a 17th-century wooden monastery in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

The site, a type of monastery known as a lavra that features clusters of cells for hermits, was one of just three of its kind in the country.

In a post on his official Telegram page over the weekend, the Ukrainian leader wrote: “Russian artillery struck the Svyatogorsk Lavra in the Donetsk region again today. Destroyed All Saints Hermitage. It was consecrated in 1912. It was first destroyed during the Soviet era. Later it was rebuilt. And so it was burned by the Russian army.”

Zelensky said Russia was aware that there were no military targets in the area. “The occupiers know exactly which object is being shelled,” he wrote.

He said Ukrainian representatives had written to Unesco on 31 May urging the cultural agency to deprive Russia of its membership.

“No country other than Russia has destroyed so many monuments, cultural and social sites in Europe since world war two,” he wrote. “Every church burned by Russia in Ukraine, every school blown up, every destroyed memorial proves that Russia has no place in Unesco. What can we talk about with a barbarian state, with a terrorist state? About what artillery shells are better to destroy the historical heritage?”

The Ukrainian leader said he expected a “logical and fair” response from the United Nations (UN) and Unesco.

He said: “Its charter does not provide for alliances with terrorists. Russia’s isolation must be complete, it must be held accountable for its crimes.”

In a subsequent video address, Zelensky said: “Russia is deliberately and systematically destroying Ukraine’s cultural and historical heritage, as well as social infrastructure, housing, and everything necessary for normal life.

“A state that does this cannot be a member of Unesco and cannot remain at the UN as if nothing had happened.”

Russian forces have destroyed or damaged more than 250 museums and cultural heritage sites in Ukraine since the invasion began in February, as well as hundreds of churches and monuments. They have also been accused of widespread looting from museum collections.

Among the museums lost to the war are the Skovoroda Museum near Kharkiv, the historic home of 18th-century Ukrainian poet and philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda, which was destroyed in a targeted military strike in early May, and the Palace of Culture in the Lozova region of Kharkiv, which was wiped out by a missile strike on 20 May.

The Kuindzhi Art Museum, devoted to the life and work of influential Ukrainian realist painter Arkhip Kuindzhi, was destroyed on 21 March. Mariupol’s Museum of Local Lore was destroyed by Russia-backed separatists during the three-month siege of the city.


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