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HomeWorldIn photos: Centuries-old Kyiv cathedral and monastery on U.N. danger list

In photos: Centuries-old Kyiv cathedral and monastery on U.N. danger list

St. Sophia’s Cathedral at sunrise in Kyiv on Feb. 15, 2022. (Ethan Swope/Bloomberg News)

The United Nations has named historical locations in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Lviv as World Heritage sites that are classified as “in danger” because of Russia’s war in Ukraine — in the hopes of rallying aid to protect the monuments.

The Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, has suffered multiple Russian missile strikes during the war, prompting the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to highlight the threat of destruction to the landmark St. Sophia’s Cathedral and Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Caves. Along with the Kyiv sites, the U.N. cultural agency added the medieval center of the western city of Lviv to its danger list.

“Faced with the risk of direct attack, these sites are also vulnerable to the shockwaves caused by the bombing of the two cities,” the UNESCO World Heritage Committee said Friday in its announcement.

St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv dates to the 11th century and was designed to rival the Hagia Sophia, today one of Istanbul’s most prized ancient buildings.

Ukraine says the cathedral is one of the few buildings surviving from that time. Monastic buildings built in the 17th and 18th centuries surround the gold-domed cathedral, which houses mosaics and frescos that are nearly 1,000 years old.

The cathedral “is one of the major monuments representing the architectural and the monumental art of the early 11th century,” with the biggest preserved collection of mosaics and frescos from that period, according to UNESCO.

It said placing these sites on the “World Heritage in Danger” list should remind U.N. member states of their responsibility to contribute to their protection, and open the door to more financial aid and emergency protective measures.

The agency’s danger list, with more than 55 locations, is meant to mobilize international support for conservation efforts, but it does not have an enforcement mechanism.

Also in the Ukrainian capital, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is a sprawling complex that was built from the 11th to the 19th centuries and includes underground churches, some linked by a network of caves spanning nearly 2,000 feet.

The site, a center of Orthodox Christianity, holds special significance for Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Christians.

The monastery has faced raids as the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine has spurred clampdowns on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has historical ties to Moscow.

With relics of saints buried in its catacombs, the monastery has for centuries been “one of the most important Christian pilgrimage centers in the world,” according to UNESCO.

The site has been on the World Heritage List since 1990 but is now classified as “in danger” as the United Nations seeks to track the devastation inflicted on Ukraine’s historical sites. UNESCO said in a report Friday that it has verified damage to nearly 290 sites during the war, including museums and libraries.

In the center of Lviv, the third site added to the UNESCO list in the past week, a 5th-century castle overlooks streets and squares built between the 13th and 17th centuries.

The city was a religious, commercial and cultural center in that period, and the site features a mosque and a synagogue, along with buildings associated with the Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches.

“Its medieval urban topography has been preserved intact,” UNESCO says.

In wartime Ukraine, Lviv, which sits near the Polish border farther away from the front lines, has been spared some of the heavier fighting raging in Ukraine’s east and south.

The city has served as a transit hub and a shelter for Ukrainians fleeing bombardment to the relative safety of Lviv or to cross into neighboring countries.

The latest UNESCO designations follow a decision this year to name the historical center of the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa a World Heritage site that is “in danger,” after a fast-track process by the U.N. agency.

UNESCO adds Ukraine’s ‘pearl of the Black Sea’ to World Heritage list

The history of Odessa, which is dubbed Ukraine’s “pearl of the Black Sea,” dates to when it was the crown jewel of Imperial Russia. The city has faced Russian attacks during this conflict, and its Museum of Fine Arts, which is more than a century old, was damaged last summer, The Washington Post reported.

As they braced for a possible Russian assault, Ukrainian forces and volunteers rushed earlier in the war to protect Odessa’s buildings, including the landmark opera and ballet theater, with sandbags and barricades.

Last year, Ukrainian authorities took down a statue of the Russian empress Catherine the Great in the city, as part of attempts to remove emblems of historical Russian influence in Ukraine, The Post reported.

Rick Noack contributed to this report.

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