President of Ukraine

Olena Zelenska speaking at the 42nd session of the UNESCO General Conference: The defense of Ukraine is now the defense of peace, civilization, and culture around the world

8 November 2023 - 21:08

Olena Zelenska speaking at the 42nd session of the UNESCO General Conference: The defense of Ukraine is now the defense of peace, civilization, and culture around the world

First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska has arrived in France. The main purpose of her visit is to participate in the opening of the Ukrainian Institute in Paris.

The Ukrainian Institute is a state institution that represents culture and shapes the image of Ukraine abroad. The Institute was founded by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in 2017 and is managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The mission of the Ukrainian Institute is to bolster Ukraine's international and domestic agency through the use of cultural diplomacy. At the same time, France is one of Ukraine's key partners in Europe and a priority country for cultural diplomacy, according to the Ukrainian Institute's strategy for 2020-2024.

On the first day of the visit, the President's wife became an honored guest of the 42nd session of the UNESCO General Conference, which is taking place at the organization's headquarters in Paris. This fundamental event takes place every two years. It determines the main direction of the organization's activities and approves its program. The conference includes representatives of all UNESCO member states. The sessions of the General Conference are attended by member states (194) and associate members (12), as well as observers from non-member states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Olena Zelenska addressed the conference with a speech in which she thanked UNESCO for its strong and effective support for Ukraine in protecting its cultural heritage from Russian aggression, in particular for including World Heritage sites in Odesa, Kyiv and Lviv in the List of World Heritage in Danger and for granting enhanced protection to 20 more sites. She also expressed her gratitude for documenting the damage to protected sites, which, according to international law, amounts to war crimes.

"A few days before my visit here, on November 5, as usual, Russian troops attacked Odesa at night. The shelling damaged the building of the Odesa National Art Museum. The news about culture in Ukraine is mostly like this now. A theater in Chernihiv, and before that the historic center of Lviv, Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral (again in Odesa), and before that dozens of other sites of our cultural heritage. Museums, libraries, theaters, galleries... More than 1,700 cultural sites have been damaged over the past year and a half," the First Lady said.

She also recalled that 3,428 educational institutions were damaged, 365 were completely destroyed, and a third of Ukrainian children study only online. In addition, 343 sports facilities were damaged, and 95 were completely destroyed. Over the past year and a half, about 360 well-known Ukrainian athletes and coaches were killed.

"These are just numbers. But behind each of them is a story of loss. We are losing. The whole world is losing. For us, all these museums, churches, theaters are not just abstract sites. They are a part of us," the President's wife added.

She also emphasized the irreparable human losses, the deaths of cultural figures. In particular, Olena Zelenska spoke about Iryna Osadcha, the director of the Kupyansk Museum of Local Lore, who was killed by a Russian missile at her workplace, 85-year-old artist Liubov Panchenko, who died after a month of starvation in occupied Bucha, and Volodymyr Vakulenko, a children's writer killed by the occupiers in Izyum.

The First Lady compared it to the extermination of the Ukrainian intelligentsia – the shooting of more than 100 Ukrainian cultural and artistic figures in the Sandarmokh tract on November 3, 1937.

She emphasized that Ukraine's defense against destruction lasts not a year and a half, but a century, and called on the organization to expand its mission in Ukraine.

"What Ukraine is going through should not be a problem of Ukraine alone. This is a demo version of what modern barbarism is capable of if left unpunished. This is an attack not just on us, but on everything valuable to a normal person. It is an attack on civilization itself. The one that UNESCO so devotedly protects. It's just that today we are standing between barbarism and civilization. And we are trying to protect life from destruction, from obliteration. So that no one else loses either history or life," the President's wife summarized.