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Greece heralds Ukraine’s Odesa Candidacy for World Heritage Site

Odesa Opera House
Odesa Opera. Credit: Julian Nyča, CC-BY-SA-4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

The Greek Foreign Ministry recently heralded the announcement of the city of Odesa’s candidacy as a World Heritage site. President Zelensky nominated Odessa in a speech to the Organization’s Executive Board on Tuesday afternoon to the 58 member Unesco executive board in a pre-recorded video.

“This initiative marks confidence in UNESCO’s protection mechanisms,” declared Audrey Azoulay, the Organisation’s Director-General. The Greek Foreign ministry also applauded the news. The main reason being the city’s close the history of Greece and of the Ukrainian Greek diaspora.

Odessa candidacy for World Heritage site

The inscription of Odessa as a World Heritage Site has as much cultural as it does political significance. That is because its place on the Unesco list would, in essence, provide an extended protection zone under the 1972 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This is a good thing in light of the Russian war against the Ukraine.

Why? The Unesco Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was ratified by Russia as well as the Ukraine. For that reason, both are obliged to undertake deliberate measures to protect any and all of World Heritage locations. That means avoiding either any direct or indirect damage to its sites.

In addition, its presence on the list of World Heritage in Danger would provide access to technical and financial emergency international assistance. It would also strengthen the protection of the property as well as help with rehabilitation. Therefore, any violation of that convention would have implications for its partners, Russia in particular.

As proof of its importance, not one of the Ukraine’s cultural sites protected UNESCO’s due to their inscription on the World Heritage List have been bombed to this day.

Odessa’s nomination for candidacy as a World Heritage Site has been a long-time coming.  The city is the third largest municipality and most populated city in Ukraine. Located on the northwest shores of the Black Sea, it also serves as one of the countries major sea and transport hubs.

National Minorities of Ukraine - The Greeks - Easter
National Minorities of Ukraine, The Greeks, Easter

In Antiquity however, it was also a large Greek settlement. It is for that reason that the Greek Foreign Ministry has welcomed Odessa’s candidacy as a World Heritage site. Though the Greek diaspora in the Ukraine is not as significant as it once was, the announcement nevertheless honors the Ukraine and Greece’s close history.

Greece’s ties with the Ukrainian city

Lots of Greeks who live there today belong to a larger diaspora known as the Pontic Greeks from from the Pontus region. These colonies traded with other nations and assimilated well with the county’s indigenous population. Thus, Hellenes were present long before what was known as Kievan Rus’.

According to historical records, Greek established colonies in the region as early as the 6th century B.C.E. with vibrant communities until the 1st century B.C.E. They eventually merged with the Bosporan Kingdom. After the 13th century however, they remained mostly near the southern region of the Crimean Mountains.

Crimean Urums with Greek flags
Crimean Urums with Greek flags. Credit: Unesco, CC-BY-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

When the Russians conquered Crimea, Catherine the Great relocated the Pontic Greeks to the Sea of Azoz, Crimea’s northern shores. Yet Pontic Greeks had not forgotten their homeland. A greek free-masonry society called the Filiki Etaria founded in Odessa in 1814 played a significant role in the Greek War of Independence.

The Soviet Union deported many however between 1937-1938. Nevertheless, Greek refugees from the civil war began arriving and settled in the USSR. Nevertheless, the ones who fled to the country often had ancestors who had been Pontic Greeks.

Greece has also reciprocated to the hospitality shown to the Greek diaspora in the Ukraine by aiding many Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the Russian-Ukraine war. The country has also openly condemned Russia’s annexation of Eastern Ukraine and its continued assault on the country.



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