The United for Justice. United for Heritage conference was held in Kyiv.

On February 29, Kyiv hosted the international conference United for Justice, United for Heritage, which brought together experts to discuss the need to protect Ukrainian cultural heritage.

The conference brought together more than 400 leading experts from around the world, government officials and human rights activists to assess the extent of damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage and ensure that Russia is held accountable for war crimes.

Our Foundation became one of the partners of the conference and helped to attract the expertise of civil society organizations, and Roman Romanov, Director of the Human Rights and Justice Program of our Foundation, moderated one of the four sessions.

“Large-scale deliberate destruction and looting of Ukrainian cultural centers, distortion of historical memory and artificial modeling of identities in the occupied territories are elements of Russia’s international crime. Its proper documentation and investigation is a complex but extremely important task facing Ukraine and its partners,” Roman Romanov emphasized.

In his speech at the conference, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin noted: “Much of Russia’s criminal policy is aimed at trying to erase our national identity and culture. The full-scale invasion has already led to the damage or destruction of more than 900 cultural heritage sites. The occupiers have looted more than 40 Ukrainian museums and stolen tens of thousands of exhibits.”

According to him, preliminary estimates of the damage caused by the war to Ukraine’s culture reach 19 billion US dollars.

“The world needs a precedent of punishment for vandalism and savagery in the field of culture. This will be of great importance for all of humanity, for the protection and preservation of the heritage of our civilization, in all parts of the world and on all continents,” said Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal at the opening of the event.

The conference announced that a special state register will be created in Ukraine. All cultural heritage sites destroyed or damaged as a result of Russian aggression will be entered there. The register will be one of the tools for determining the amount of compensation from Russia.

The Prosecutor General said that more than 60 investigations into crimes against cultural heritage are currently underway.

“The scale and purposefulness of these crimes is another evidence of the Kremlin’s intentions to commit genocide against the Ukrainian people. It is an intention to kill our citizens every day. It is an intention to deprive us of our future by deliberately abducting tens of thousands of our children from Ukraine. And it is an intention to try to erase our history by destroying our cultural heritage. This is what genocide looks like. That is why today we are united to ensure that the whole world knows that Russia will be punished for all war crimes,” emphasized Andriy Kostin.

The participants were also addressed by Ladislav Hamran, President of Eurojust, Adam Bodnar, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Poland, Alex-Florin Florent, Prosecutor General of Romania, Nida Grunskene, Prosecutor General of Lithuania, and Juris Stukans, Prosecutor General of Latvia.

European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders, Director General of the Council of Europe’s Directorate-General for Human Rights and Rule of Law Christos Giacomopoulos, and Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Kareem Khan also took part in the event.

Four constructive and fruitful discussions took place on the sidelines of the conference. They were attended by the acting Minister of Culture and Information Policy Rostyslav Karandieiev, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine Iryna Mudra, MP of Ukraine, Head of the Ukrainian delegation to PACE Maria Mezentseva, American lawyer, counselor to the U.S. Department of Justice Eli Rosenbaum, ASA Coordinator Clint Williamson, his deputy Wayne George, frontman of the Ukrainian band Antytila Taras Topolya, Head of the Board of the NGO “Opora” Olga Aivazovska, Program Director of the Renaissance Foundation Roman Romanov, and others.

The speakers of the first panel focused on crimes against cultural heritage, as well as on what affects the heritage of the Ukrainian people.

“Without culture, there is no nation – there is only a population, and there is no country – there is only a territory. Today, the aggressor country, as it has been for several centuries, is deliberately committing cultural genocide against Ukraine. The aggressive war waged by the Russian Federation leads to losses among our heritage every day, so we cannot postpone cultural issues “for later” – we must take care of them today,” Rostyslav Karandieiev emphasized.

The second panel discussed the fight against illicit trafficking and theft of cultural property. The following panels focused on further steps for advocacy and accountability, as well as the role of civil society actors.

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