Two weeks after destroying a historic building in Lviv, Russian missiles hit the city center of Odesa, a World Heritage Site, killing one person and injuring 22 others. In a series of rocket attacks on the city, 61 buildings were damaged, including 28 structures considered highly significant to Ukrainian architectural heritage.
Starting on July 19, Russia has conducted a series of missile attacks on Odesa, a port city on the Black Sea, targeting grain and oil terminals and port equipment. The attacks began after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain initiative on Monday, July 17.
On July 23, missiles hit the city center, damaging the Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral (a replica of the original 1794 church destroyed by the Soviet government in 1936 and rebuilt in 2010) as well as structures associated with Classicist and modernist architecture dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries. According to the Odesa city administration, the heaviest damage hit so-called “revenue houses” and residential houses belonged to members of the aristocracy in the 19th century. Some of the damaged structures were built as early as the 1830s.
Oksana Dovgopolova, a professor of philosophy at the Odesa I. I. Mechnykov National University and curator of the Past/Future/Art cultural memory platform, told Hyperallergic that although the direct hit on one of the largest church buildings in the south of Ukraine is “a striking fact in itself,” it is the authentic 19th-century architecture that bears the highest historical value.
One is the House of Scientists, built in 1832 by the Russo-Italian architect Francesco Carlo Boffo as an example of Classicism in architecture and later bought by the Russian Count Mikhail Tolstoy. According to Dovgopolova, the building “embodies the idea of Odesa patronage, entrepreneurship, and innovation.”
“Through the efforts of the Odesa Tolstoy family, the first ambulance station in the Russian Empire was launched (free for representatives of any social group), a public library was created, women’s secondary educational institutions were initiated,” Dovgopolova said. “The place harbored a unique grand piano that belonged to Franz Liszt, restored and made functional in recent years.”
The explosions blew through the windows and authentic fragments of stucco and plaster in the House of Scientists, damaging the original furniture. “We need to assess the harm caused to the building because the problem can be not only in blown windows but in a possible landslide,” Dovgopolova added. The hit ruined the neighboring building located lower on the slope, which in turn may affect the stability of the House of Scientists. During World War II, a German missile damaged the house, but it survived that attack.
As a result of the attack, UNESCO released two statements, pledging to send a mission to Odesa to assess the damages. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay urged Russia “to take meaningful action to comply” with the 1954 Hague Convention to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict. The historic center of Odesa was inscribed under UNESCO protection in January 2023 as an example of the cultural legacy of the Russian Empire and a large area that preserved the city’s historic fabric with its rapid development in the 19th century and its ethnically and culturally diverse population.
In the aftermath of the attack, residents gathered near the damaged sites to help clean the rubble. Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni claimed that Italy is ready “to get involved” in the reconstruction of the Transfiguration Cathedral after the Italian delegation from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies visited the site of the attack.