This lecture highlights the indiscriminate destruction of Ukrainian cultural heritage by the occupying Russian forces. As of October 18, 2023, UNESCO has documented the desecration of 295 sites since February 24, 2022, including 124 religious sites, 110 historically and artistically significant buildings, 28 museums, 19 monuments, 13 libraries, and one archive.
Mariupol, Melitopol, and Kherson suffered the looting of thousands of artifacts from their museum collections at the hands of Russian forces. In Odesa, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, incessant bombardments have already reduced the Cathedral of Transfiguration to ruins and inflicted substantial damage upon numerous historic structures.
Similarly, in Kharkiv, a center of modernist architecture, the Russian missile attack on August 18, 2022, obliterated the vital constructivist landmark, the Palace of Railwaymen. Recent escalations in bombardments pose an imminent threat to other significant modernist architectural monuments in the area.
The situation in Lviv, a city enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage List, remains no less disconcerting. A massive missile strike on July 6, 2023, caused extensive damage to multiple structures in the buffer zone of Lviv's historical center.
As Ukrainians prepare for the upcoming winter—a season historically marked by escalated Russian aerial assaults—Putin's propaganda depicts these attacks as "precision strikes" on Ukrainian military targets. In reality, however, the bombardments have deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure and densely populated urban areas.
The ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine has unveiled the limitations of UNESCO and other international organizations in preventing the widescale destruction of cultural heritage. Despite the Russian Federation's ratification of international conventions aimed at safeguarding cultural heritage during armed conflicts, Putin's army has repeatedly flouted these regulations. Regrettably, there exists no effective mechanism for enforcing such conventions, exacerbating the vulnerability of cultural treasures in times of war.
Konstantin Akinsha is among the foremost scholars and curators of Russian and Ukrainian Art. He studied at the Shevchenko Art School in Kyiv, Ukraine and in in 1986 completed a Masters in Art History at the Moscow State University in Russia. He obtained his Candidate of Art History at the Research Institute of Art History in Moscow in 1990, and started a PhD at the University of St Andrews, Scotland in 2005. Throughout his career, he has been curator at the Kyiv Museum of Western and Oriental Art, Kyiv, Ukraine, Moscow correspondent for ARTnews, contributing editor for ARTnews magazine, New York, as well as a Research Fellow at both the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany and Bremen Kunstverein, East European Institute of Bremen University, Bremen, Germany. From 1999-2000 he was also Deputy Research Director Art and Cultural Property, Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States, Washington, DC. In 2006 he became the European Correspondent for ARTnews magazine in Budapest, and in 2007 he also became a Eugene and Davmel Shklar Fellow at the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, he has been documenting the destruction of its cultural heritage and has been writing for such publications as The Wall Street Journal and for his own website.