German Statement in the Arria-formula meeting on “The Destruction of Cultural Heritage as a Consequence of the Russian Aggression against Ukraine”, delivered by Michael Geisler, 15 July 2022
Mr. President, I thank Albania, Poland and Ukraine for organizing this meeting on yet another aspect of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. I also thank the briefers for their insights.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture more than 380 cultural sites have been damaged or destroyed. Churches, museums, memorials – including the Babyn Jar Holocaust Memorial Site –, archives and libraries are affected. The extent of destruction shows that Russia is following a deliberate strategy to erase Ukrainian statehood, culture and history. This has been laid out in statements by President Putin himself.
In numerous statements, we have heard that the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage can amount to a war crime. Russian officials responsible for these attacks will be held to account.
Germany stands with Ukraine, also on the cultural front. In early June, the German State Minister for Culture visited Odessa and pledged to support the City's nomination as a UNESCO world heritage site. We can only hope that the historic city of Odessa does not become yet another victim of Russia’s war, and that future generations will still be able to admire its beauty.
Germany has created a civil society network for the protection of Ukraine’s cultural heritage. The network coordinates the support of Germany’s numerous cultural institutions that are connected to counterparts in Ukraine. It is chaired by ICOM Germany, i.e. the International Council of Museums. The new network cooperates closely with the ICOM colleagues from Poland and Switzerland. Their support to Ukraine includes several shipments of protective equipment to prevent damage to endangered sites.
It is crucial that our individual efforts be supported by international actors. We welcome that, after the visit of UNSG Guterres to Kyiv in April, a first working level visit by UNESCO to Ukraine could finally take place last week. The Group of Friends of Ukraine has been urging UNESCO to be present since the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and we strongly encourage UNESCO to further strengthen its efforts.
While international support like this will bring benefits in certain cases, there is only one sustainable solution to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage from further harm. President Putin has to stop his war of choice, and finally withdraw all Russian troops from Ukrainian lands.