Russian Occupation Authorities Threaten Crimean Cultural Heritage
Since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, a significant number of Crimean Tatar cultural monuments are now at risk of being damaged or even destroyed. Russian occupation forces are dismantling the historical Bakhchisaray palace under the guise of restoration. And conducting excavation on the territory of Chersonesus
It includes several mosques, and baths – it took two and a half centuries to build the complex in the style of the Ottoman Empire. Work began in 1532. Almost five centuries later, it was included in the preliminary UNESCO world heritage list. Ukraine undertook to preserve this cultural site.
In 2014, the object was supposed to be included in the main list. However, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its chances of entering the list became smaller. The occupation authorities started a so-called restoration of the buildings, which in fact turned out to be a destruction of its authenticity.
“Currently, we have modern materials, modern technology, and modern roof coating. Unfortunately, the use of these materials – concrete, reinforced concrete, and new wooden constructions – affected these walls which date back to the 16th century,” ex-head of the Bakhchysarai Historical and Cultural Reserve Elmira Ablialimova said.
Chersonesus was established by ancient Greeks during the 5th century BC. Excavations have been underway for almost 200 years. In 1994, Chersonesus became a National Reserve of Ukraine. A year before the annexation it was included in the UNESCO world heritage list. After the occupation, Russians started holding shows at the ancient site. In 2018, a stage for theatre performances was built there.
“During the construction of this stage, they carried out site improvements which have also damaged the cultural heritage of the ancient city. Sevastopol activists recorded what they had been taking out as garbage. In the garbage, there were marble columns and other very valuable artifacts,” member of the Icomos National Committee of Ukraine Tymur Bobrovskyi said.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea initiated criminal cases against Russia’s unlawful restoration of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai – as well as illegal excavations in Chersonesus.
“At a minimum, we are constantly working on a database and monitoring the process of what is happening. If we are talking about Chersonesus, this is the data on excavations, the removal of things, and all sorts of festivals organized there,” the deputy head of the prosecutor’s office of Crimea Borys Parashchuk said.
After the annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian law enforcement agencies cannot carry out investigations on the peninsula. Experts do not risk going there due to safety concerns. Thus, Ukraine is in the process of negotiating an international monitoring mission of cultural sites in the annexed Crimea.
“We managed to agree with UNESCO and sign an agreement on its direct monitoring. In the near future, UNESCO experts along with our experts should receive the entire database. This is the data on the state of the objects when they were nominated for the UNESCO list,” Minister of Culture of Ukraine Yevhen Nyshchuk said.
The appointment of the UNESCO Commissioner-General for Cultural Property is also being negotiated. The Commissioner will have to record Russia’s violations, and order investigations into its acts of vandalism in the annexed Crimea.