Ambassador Lisa Carty
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council
New York, New York
July 15, 2022
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. We would like to thank Albania and Poland for organizing this meeting and for your very strong advocacy on behalf of the Ukrainian people. The damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage is really often overshadowed by the other horrors of this war, so we laud the effort in using this forum to draw attention to it. I’d also like to thank our briefers for their very sobering presentations, but particularly the Deputy Minister for painting a such a vivid picture for all of us and reminding us, also, of the intangible heritage that’s also at risk, which I think is an important point for us all to keep in mind.
As our briefers have just recounted, Vladimir Putin is waging a war of aggression that has destroyed parts of Ukraine’s unique cultural heritage in an effort to rewrite history. This campaign has been in motion since 2014, when Russia began to remove artifacts, demolish grave sites, and shutter churches and other houses of worship in the Donbas region and Crimea. Even before Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia reportedly illegally exported artifacts from Crimea, conducted unauthorized archaeological expeditions, demolished Muslim burial sites, and damaged cultural heritage sites.
The harm to Ukraine’s cultural heritage has only intensified since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February.
In June of this year, Russia was scheduled to host and chair the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Kazan, Russia. In light of events in Ukraine, this meeting was postponed, and the Committee is considering modalities for rescheduling. We join the growing outcry questioning the appropriateness of a Russian role in hosting this meeting at a time when Russian forces are destroying and putting at risk Ukraine’s cultural heritage.
Russia’s unconscionable bombing of Ukrainian cities has already damaged the area around Babyn Yar, the site where more than 100,000 Ukrainian Jews were executed during the Second World War, as well as many other historical buildings in and near Kyiv.
Let us be clear: Destruction of cultural heritage during armed conflict endangers the identity, history, and dignity of the Ukrainian people. International* attacks on cultural property may also violate international law, including the 1954 Hague Convention.
Putin’s unjustified war against an independent and sovereign Ukraine is consistent with a long series of attempts by imperial Russia and the totalitarian Soviet Union to Russify Ukraine by force. This imperialistic policy included suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture in the 1800s, as well as the horribly oppressive policies implemented by Stalin in the 1930s, including the starvation of 4 million people through famine.
The United States remains deeply committed to preventing the destruction of important religious and historical sites in Ukraine. To date, the United States has provided more than $1.7 million to support cultural preservation projects, including the restoration of the 15th-century Vyshnivetsky Palace and the conservation of 12th-century mosaics in St. Sophia Cathedral.
Finally, we strongly object to any suggestion that our support for Ukraine could be based on any kind of anti-Russian sentiment. The United States has a vibrant Russian diaspora community, and Russian is one of the top ten languages spoken in the United States. The United States believes that continued direct engagement with the people of Russia is essential. We have stated repeatedly that the people of Russia are not responsible for Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.
Russia alone bears responsibility for this war and the damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage that has come as a result of it. We urge the Russian government to silence its guns, withdraw its forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory, and end the damage to Ukrainian culture.