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Odesa, Ukraine's largest port city on the Black Sea coast, prepares defenses while trying to protect its cultural monuments. The photo shows one of the city's symbols, the monument to Duc de Richelieu, covered with over 1,000 sandbags.

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PARIS — Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, UNESCO has taken action within the framework of its mandate, in particular to protect culture.

“We must safeguard the cultural heritage in Ukraine, as a testimony of the past but also as a catalyst for peace and cohesion for the future, which the international community has a duty to protect and preserve,” stated Audrey Azoulay, U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization director-general, at the start of the conflict.

UNESCO is in permanent contact with all relevant institutions, as well as with Ukrainian cultural professionals, to assess the situation and to reinforce the protection of cultural properties.

Emblem to identify, protect cultural places

“The first challenge is to mark cultural heritage sites and monuments and recall their special status as protected areas under international law,” explained the UNESCO director-general. The organization is in contact with Ukrainian authorities to mark cultural sites and monuments with the distinctive “Blue Shield” emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict to avoid deliberate or accidental damages.

Properties inscribed on World Heritage list, such as the site of the Saint-Sophia Cathedral, are considered a priority. The marking process started this weekend at the site of “L’viv — the Ensemble of the Historic Centre.”

Satellite monitoring of the damage

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UNESCO, with its partner United Nations Institute for Training and Research, also analyses satellite imagery for priority sites, which are endangered or already impacted, in order to assess damage.

“As of today, a dozen priority sites are already covered by this monitoring system, including World Heritage Sites,” announced Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Contact has also been established with civil society, living heritage professionals and practitioners regarding the impact of the crisis on the situation of artists and cultural institutions.

Response to needs of Ukrainian cultural professionals

New meetings with Ukrainian cultural professionals — World Heritage site managers, museum directors and professionals in charge of immovable and movable heritage — are scheduled on March 9 and 10 to identify urgent needs.

To address these needs, UNESCO will mobilize international partners during an emergency response coordination meeting with UNITAR, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, Blue Shield International, the International Council of Museums, the International Council on Monuments and Sites and ALIPH, among others.