The Holy Mountains Lavra before it was damaged by a Russian airstrike on March 12 (via Wikimedia Commons)

At least 53 historical sites in Ukraine have been identified as severely damaged or destroyed by Russian forces as of last week, UNESCO said. Experts at the world heritage organization are still at work confirming reports, so the list is not complete, but it offers a troubling snapshot of the loss of material heritage that has accompanied the incalculable devastation of civilian deaths, displacement, and human suffering.

The Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, a state agency of Ukraine, has also launched an interactive “map of culture losses” marking over 150 sites it says were partially or completely destroyed as a result of the invasion, including monuments. Anyone who has witnessed the damage of cultural heritage in the nation is encouraged to send evidence to the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, which will verify and display the data on the map.

Of the 53 places identified by UNESCO, 29 are religious sites, 16 are historic buildings, four are museums, and four others are monuments. Over a dozen are in the eastern Kharkiv region, five are in Kyiv, and five in Chernihiv. Places that have been criminally ruined include the Ivankiv Museum, which housed several works by Ukrainian painter Maria Pryimachenko; the Holy Mountains Lavra, a 16th-century Orthodox Christian monastery and cave complex in Donetsk which drew thousands of devotees per year; and the historic city center of Chernihiv, where more than half of the city’s population has fled.

“It almost seems trite to worry about physical structures when there are human lives at stake that can’t be replaced in any way,” said Lucy Maulsby, an associate professor of architectural history at Northeastern University. The United Nations reported at least 3,838 civilian casualties in Ukraine since the start of the war, with 1,611 killed and 2,227 injured.

“But buildings and places are more than their materials — they’re reminders of shared, collective history and memories,” Maulsby continued. “They’re monuments to hopes and dreams, and that is also what people see in their damage or destruction. It’s why the loss of a building or a monument or a significant public space can be so impactful.”

As Russian forces, statesmen, and President Vladimir Putin deploy rockets and artillery on Ukraine’s churches, historical monuments, and museums — deliberate in their reckless desecration of cultural heritage — museum directors, archivists, city workers, and cultural workers have scrambled to salvage invaluable objects, artifacts, and artworks. The contrariness of such efforts — the race on one hand to destroy, and a competing one to preserve — is one of the striking dualities that arise in brutish times of war.

A church destroyed in Viazivka (via Wikimedia Commons)

The World Monuments Fund has identified a set of short-, medium-, and long-term critical needs, such as emergency equipment and supplies, and the undertaking of restoration efforts when it is safe to do so. The organization has received a $500,000 seed grant from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, but is seeking further donations.

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Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University. Find her on