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Tauric Chersonese is an ancient Byzantine city-state in the southwestern part of the Crimea. Even the researchers do not name the exact date of the Chersonese foundation, the approximate time of existence of the ancient city is put into the framework of the V century BC – XIV century AD.
Chersonese is a unique site as it is one of the few examples of integrally preserved ancient cities with their Chora.
Despite its extraordinary, world-renowned value, the events that followed Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula cast doubt on its future.
Chersonese before the Russian occupation of the Crimea
According to Ukrainian law, Chersonese is a cultural heritage site. Through the years its status changed and gradually it received more and more protection.
On September 3, 2009, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Decree № 928, which included Chersonese in the list of cultural heritage sites of national significance of the State Register of immovable monuments of Ukraine.
In three years ago, four objects were added to the list of cultural heritage sites of national significance, which are included in the State Register of immovable monuments of Ukraine – the complex of the Tauric Chersonese and its Chora necropolis and the monastery of the Virgin of Vlahern (with a guard № 270020-N), necropolis (with a guard 270020/1-Н), the monastery of the Virgin of Vlahern (with a guard 270020/2-Н) and the ancient road to Chersonese with the remains of production workshops (with a guard 270020/3-Н).
Moreover, within a year, the monument «Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora» received international recognition and protection – on June 23, 2013 it was included into the UNESCO World Heritage List, and now is there together with six other Ukrainian sites, which are on the list. Currently, according to the Law of Ukraine «On the Protection of Cultural Heritage» Chersonese is a World Heritage Site and has the status of a monument of a national significance, which consequently gives the monument special protection under international and national law. Unfortunately, due to the occupation of the peninsula by the Russian Federation and the inability to provide a supervision of the monument by the Ukrainian or international community, Tauric Chersonese in fact lost its protection.
Chersonese after the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation
After the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol, during 2015-2016 the Government of the Russian Federation, by direct order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, issued a number of orders by which the Ukrainian monument of national significance «Chersonese and its Chora» was included to the list of «objects of cultural heritage of Federal significance of the Russian Federation» and to «Unified state register of cultural heritage sites (historical and cultural monuments) of the peoples of the Russian Federation» with a guard № 921520336350006. Hence, similarly as other cultural heritage sites on the Crimean Peninsula, Tauric Chersonese was illegally expropriated by the occupying authorities. Later the same year, Vladimir Putin added the Tauric Chersonese and its Chora to the list of especially valuable objects of Russia’s cultural heritage. Later that year, Vladimir Putin added the «State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve «Tauric Chersonese and its Chora» to Russia’s list of Particularly valuable objects of cultural heritage. This decree came into force on January 1 of the following year. In July 2021, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation changed created earlier in 2016 preliminary list of Chersonese objects which have to be protected.
The international community recognizes Chersonese as the property of Ukraine. However, this does not prevent Russia from considering the monument as its property. According to the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to UNESCO, E. Mitrofanova, «the de facto status of Chersonese as a cultural heritage site is determined by Russian law», despite the fact that UNESCO «does not recognize that the «State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve «Tauric Chersonese» «is under Russian responsibility». Therefore, Russia realizes that its illegal actions are condemned, but nevertheless continues to act in that way.
Claims of the Russian orthodox church on the territory of the «Tauric Chersonese and its Chora»
Despite the fact that Russia considers Chersonese belongs to it, there is no single approach among the occupiers who is the owner of Chersonese. The evidence of this could serve the fact of a dispute between, occupying government, the «leadership» of the Tauric Chersonese Reserve and the Russian Orthodox Church, which has also decided to express its claims to the monument. The basis for such claims was the law «On the transfer of religious organizations property of religious significance, which is in state or municipal ownership» № 327-ФЗ adopted in 2010 by the State Duma of the Russian Federation. According to Art. 6 of this law, the property which is owned by the state (Chersonese, according to the occupier, is a «federal state institution»), may be transferred to a religious organization after it has submitted a written application. As a result, if a religious organization wishes to acquire property owned by the State, it has to submit an application and wait for the results of its consideration by the competent state authorities (in this case, Russian Federal Agency for State Property Management).
Similar application was written and submitted by the Russian Orthodox Church in November 2016, immediately after inclusion of the monument into the state registers of the Russian Federation, but the application was not considered «due to incompetence of documents». Despite the negative response, the Russian Orthodox Church intends to submit a request again, but every time the result was a refusal.
Transfer of the site «Tauric Chersonese» to the ownership of the Russian Orthodox Church denies the «management» of the Reserve. In particular, S. Melnikova, who is the director of the Tauric Chersonese Reserve. According to her, «transfer of objects is impossible» because it will violate the integrity of the complex. Actually, it is about transferring 24 objects which are in the territory of Chersonese which allegedly «belong to the former Prince-Vladimir man’s monastery». A separate issue concerns the particularly valuable exhibits of Chersonese, which are currently stored at the basement of the monastery. According to the Russian Orthodox Church, it seeks to protect these exhibits from loss and the «act of sacrilege» carried out by the current management of the museum-reserve.
The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation calls the issue of transferring the museum to the Russian Orthodox Church as «debatable» and notes that the church buildings can be returned only if “the museum receives an adequate replacement for these buildings».
However, this is not the first time in Russia that the ROC claims and, consequently receives cultural heritage sites. For example, in St. Petersburg, the authorities handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church the Church of St. Catherine. Such precedents indicate the danger of the transfer of Chersonese to the Russian Orthodox Church is also quite real. However, in our case it is necessary to take into account the fact that during the first submission the application was rejected by the Federal Agency for State Property Management, and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation does not express a clear position on this issue. Therefore, it is difficult to predict how events will develop in the future and whether the Russian Orthodox Church will receive the claimed Chersonese facilities.
Destruction of Chersonese by the Russian Federation
With the beginning of the occupation the occupation authorities and new «management» of the museum reserve continually carried out a number of activities, which damaged and destroyed the monument. Since then, the condition of the Tauric Chersonese has only significantly deteriorated and as for today continues to do so.
In 2016, during construction works, the occupying authorities «filled with concrete the ancient manor on Cape Chersonese», which is located on a protected area on the Lighthouse Peninsula («dug a pit 250 by 250 meters 2 meters deep, filled with concrete»).
In the winter of 2018, «an ancient estate of the 3rd century fell under the bucket of a bulldozer», on the site of which the fund storage of the Archaeological Museum-Reserve «Tauric Chersonese» is being built.
In 2018-2019, the International Music Festival «Opera in Chersonese» was conducted there, for which 15 metal trucks and a diesel-generator power substation were delivered directly to the territory of the site of UNESCO with an overall weight of 500 tons, and light and sound equipment with a capacity of 50 kilowatts»
In July 2020, on the territory of the reserve excavations were resumed, in October of the same year, it was reported that excavations continued and that «near the excavation site a construction machine was working to drill a pit».
Hence, it is not a single case of damage to a cultural heritage site, but a systematic intentional damage and destruction.
The reaction of the international community to the criminal actions of the Russian Federation
Херсонес. Панорама. Фото Ковальського А.Й.The international community condemns such actions which the Russian Federation is doing to Chersonese.
In 2016, UNESCO called for «to refrain from any action that would cause damages [to Chersonese and its choir] and to fulfill their obligations under international law by taking all possible measures to protect it».
The reaction to the subsequent events was also extremely negative and now UNESCO is deeply concerned about the future state of preservation of the object. The international organization expressed concern, in particular, by the Russian Orthodox Church «intention to assume ownership of 24 objects, which are an integral part of the World Heritage Site «Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora» inscribed on the World Heritage List”. Organization emphasizes that “this directly affects in a negative way the state of conservation of the said site”. Besides this, concern arises about “illegal works on the World Heritage Site “Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora”, namely “construction of shore protection structures of the Chersonese settlement» and ensuring of the «preservation, study and conservation of the choir’s facilities on the territory of this complex». UNESCO also emphasizes that such actions are inconsistent with Ukraine and concludes that «massive construction works would most surely present an imminent danger to its authenticity and safety». A serious consequence of the fact that the occupation authorities carry out work without the approval of projects, methods and documentation with Ukraine and UNESCO may be that such work is performed by incompetent contractors who will destroy the monument.
Hence, the issue arises that the international community points on the illegality of Russia’s actions, but the condemnation of such actions is still only on paper. Moreover, there is no actual access to the site by both Ukrainian and international observers, which makes it impossible to analyze its real state and take the necessary measures and, as a result, take active actions.
Responsibility for the preservation of the site during the occupation under international law
The responsibility for the preservation of Chersonese and its Chora lies in the Russian Federation as the state that occupied the territory of the Crimean Peninsula. Part 7 of Art. 5 of the Law of Ukraine «On the Protection of Citizen Rights and Freedoms on Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine» stipulates that the responsibility for the protection of cultural heritage on the temporarily occupied territory is assigned to the Russian Federation as the occupying power. Therefore, during the occupation, it is the responsibility of this state to protect and preserve the site.
On April 30, 2020, after protracted calls from experts, Ukraine accessed to the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which prohibits archaeological excavations in the occupied territories, and the international community, represented by UNESCO, is given effective powers to monitor the situation and influence on the occupying party in order to preserve cultural property. Separately, the Protocol sets additional restrictions on the application of the principle of «military necessity», and introduces the institution of «enhanced protection». The Protocol develops and regulates the issue of criminal prosecution for crimes against cultural property, which significantly expands and strengthens the responsibility for crimes in the field of cultural heritage protection in case of armed conflict. It also provides the protection of cultural property in the occupied territories. Currently, the process of full implementation of this document into Ukrainian legislation is underway.
The Russian Federation violates this provision of the Second Protocol by its illegal actions.
National legislation of Russia and Ukraine on the protection of Chersonese
Comparison of the Russian and Ukrainian national legislation on the protection of cultural heritage shows that protection of Chersonese and its Chora is much weaker in Russia at the national legislative level than in Ukrainian.
Ukrainian legislation classifies Chersonese and its Chora as World Heritage Site, which gives it the status of a subject of special protection, consequently the site has the highest possible degree of protection in the national law.
Contrary to Ukrainian law, the Russian Federation has given the site the lowest status that exists in Russian law. Since Chersonese cannot be recognized as a World Heritage Site in the Russian Federation, because of UNESCO objections, Russian legislation provides that the State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve «Tauric Chersonese» has the status of a particularly valuable object of cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation, which grants the site a significantly lower level of protection than in Ukrainian law. In particular, this status provides for a number of legal restrictions for the fully fledged functioning of the reserve and its preservation. Namely, the low level of protection of the site has had a negative impact and is currently affecting its general condition.
Examining this issue in more detail, we will consider how the Ukrainian legislation manages «Tauric Chersonese». System of the monument’s protection is rather complicated and consists of several stages: through the supervisory board of the object and governing bodies, (on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, the management is carried out by the National Reserve «Tauric Chersonese»). Such a decision-making mechanism is an effective safeguard for decisions that could potentially damage the site. In addition, from reckless actions that could potentially deteriorate the condition of the site, protects in many cases (such as before urban planning, architectural and landscape transformations, reclamation, road, earthworks on such object, as well as in its territories or in the buffer zone), mandatory prior notification to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is required, which recommendations are binding for Ukraine.
As a result, in addition to safeguards at the national level, there are effective deterrents at the international level, which are designed to ensure the protection of cultural heritage sites.
On the contrary, Russian Federation considers Chersonese a site of cultural heritage, which is in its state ownership. The decision-making mechanism for such an object is much simpler than in Ukraine. A number of decisions, such as about the establishment, change of the Chersonese protection zone, requirements for urban planning regulations within the territories of these zones are approved only by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, taking into account the conclusion submitted by the relevant regional body. The point is that, in order, for example, to change the size of the Chersonese zone, which is subject to protection, the relevant decision of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation is the only thing which is required. International safeguards are not mentioned at all.
In addition, one more important safeguard which has an influence on government decision-making that exists in Ukraine and is absent in Russia is a civil society. In other words, the point is that the public has a real opportunity to influence decision-making. This is confirmed by international rankings. Thus, according to ranking conducted with the support of USAID, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance and the Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance in 2020 Ukraine has better results than the Russian Federation.
Consequently, in Ukraine, decision-making by the authorities is influenced by many safeguards, such as the multi-level governance of Chersonese, control at the international level through the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and, in addition, civil society. In Russia, all these are missing. As a result, the monument is in the process of being destroyed by the occupying state.
Liability for violation of national legislation on cultural heritage
Another issue about the protection of cultural heritage under Russian law is that Russian national legislation provides smaller sanctions for similar actions for violating it than Ukrainian law.
In general, in both cases there are criminal and administrative liability for violation of the legislation on protection of cultural heritage. Other forms of liability in Ukraine and Russia differ. Ukrainian law in addition provides the obligation to recover damages and a clear list of financial sanctions for legal entities. To the contrary Russian legislation uses an extremely vague wording of «other types of legal responsibility». As a result, in terms of the principle of legal certainty the mere wording of liability in Russian law is controversial, which makes it difficult to understand the nature of responsibility for committing an illegal act.
There are no special financial sanctions in the Federal law of the Russian Federation «About objects of cultural heritage (historical and cultural monuments) of the people of the Russian Federation», as they are in Law of Ukraine «On the Protection of Cultural Heritage». Moreover, the issue of additional compensation does not rise at all, as there is only an «obligation to reimburse the cost of restoration works». Hence, under Russian law, the offender must pay only for the work on restoring the site. Already at the level of the Law, a narrower concept, which provides for a smaller amount of compensation, is enshrined.
The punishment for committing a criminal offense under Russian law is also weaker than under Ukrainian law. Parts 3, 4, 5 Article 298 of the Criminal code of Ukraine establishes that the punishment for extermination, destruction or damage to cultural heritage is up to 5 years imprisonment. In case, if such actions are made with the purpose of search of movable objects originating from archaeological heritage sites the punishment is up to 5 years of imprisonment with or without the deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities for a term up to 3 years. Maximum sanction is provided if extermination, destruction or damage to cultural heritage were made by an official through abuse of office (imprisonment for a term up to 8 years, with or without the deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities for a term up to 3 years).
The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation provides weaker responsibility for the destruction or damage of cultural heritage sites. In case of destruction or damage of especially valuable objects of cultural heritage of the Russian Federation the maximum punishment is imprisonment for a term of up to 6 years.
In addition, if there is a violation of the conditions of storage or use of cultural heritage sites, the penalty is up to 2 years of imprisonment (Article 243.1 of Criminal code of Russian Federation).
Consequently, the most possible punishment under Ukrainian law for the destruction or damage of such a monument is imprisonment for up to 8 years with deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities up to 3 years, and under Russian is imprisonment for up to 6 years.
Future of the Chersonese depends on the actions of both Ukraine and the international community. It is vital for all States to further uphold the non-recognition policy and do not support Russian claims on the ownership of the Chersonese. International organizations such as UNESCO, ICOMOS and relevant EU institutions should also be actively involved in the protection of the site to ensure its more effective preservation. Moreover, the monument should not be allowed to be transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. This will only aggravate its situation. Guilty of destruction and damages of Chersonese must be brought to justice. In this case it means responsibility both criminal responsibility for individuals who were involved in the destruction of the Chersonese and for Russia as a State. Moreover, Ukraine has to continue to prolong sanctions against the Petersburg Hermitage Museum as «the governing body» of the Chersonese, which were imposed by the President of Ukraine for the term of 3 years in 2020.
ГО “Регіональний центр прав людини”
 Information review «Cultural heritage of Ukraine in the Crimea: damage and destruction», Articles 5-10 http://kompkd.rada.gov.ua/uploads/documents/34034.pdf
 Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of 3 September 2009 № 928 «On inclusion of cultural heritage sites of national importance in the State Register of immovable monuments of Ukraine», https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/928-2009-%D0%BF#Text
 Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of October 10, 2012 № 929 «On inclusion of cultural heritage sites of national importance in the State Register of immovable monuments of Ukraine», https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/929-2012-%D0%BF#Text
 List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the UNESCO website https://unesco.mfa.gov.ua/spivrobitnictvo/ukrayinski-obyekti-u-spisku-vsesvitnoyi-spadshchini-yunesko
 See. Decree Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev 3 September 2015 № 1721-р (https://cutt.ly/NWO6hg3) and 12 February 2016 № 206-р (https://cutt.ly/UWO5LId), of Temporarily Acting Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Nikolai Maklakov 8 June 2016 № 1279 «About inclusion of the revealed object of cultural heritage – a memorial place «Ancient city of Chersonese Tavriya and fortresses of Chembalo and Kalamyta» (Sevastopol) in the Unified state register of cultural heritage sites (historical and cultural monuments) of the peoples of the Russian Federation as object of cultural heritage of federal significance, as well as the approval of the boundaries of its territory» (https://archive.ph/BJJKJ)
 Decree of Vladimir Putin «On the attribution of the Federal State Budgetary Cultural Institution «State Historical-Archaeological Museum-Reserve «Chersones Taurice» to the especially valuable objects of the cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation» № 596, December 7, 2015,
 Decree of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, January 11, 2016 № 2 «On the inclusion of the city of Sevastopol in the list of historical settlements of federal significance, the approval of the boundaries of the territory and the subject of protection of the historical settlement of the city of Sevastopol» https://rulaws.ru/acts/Prikaz-Minkultury-Rossii-ot-11.01.2016-N-2/
 Decree of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, June 7, 2021, № 798 «On amendments to Appendix № 2 to the Decree of the Ministry of Culture of Russia, January 11, 2016, № 2 «On the inclusion of the city of Sevastopol in the list of historical settlements of federal significance, the approval of the boundaries of the territory and the subject of protection of the historical settlement of the city of Sevastopol» https://rulaws.ru/acts/Prikaz-Minkultury-Rossii-ot-07.06.2021-N-798/
 «UNESCO refuses to recognize Tauric Chersonese as Russian», February 25, 2016, Ukrinform, https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-regions/1972015-v-unesko-vidmovlautsa-viznavati-hersones-tavrijskij-rosijskim.html
Decree of the President of the Russian Federation «On the attribution of the federal state budgetary institution of culture «State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve «Tauric Chersonese» to the most valuable objects of cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation» № 596, December 7, 2015, http://static.kremlin.ru/media/acts/files/0001201512070020.pdf
Federal law «On the transfer of religious organizations property of religious significance, which is in state or municipal ownership», November 30, 2010, № 327-ФЗ. https://rg.ru/2010/12/03/tserkovnoedobro-dok.html
 Evelina Kravchenko «Заповідні території хори Херсонеса Таврійського на межі з гірською зоною і морем», July 14, 2020, Voice of Crimea https://culture.voicecrimea.com.ua/uk/zapovidna-dilianka-antychnoi-khory-khersonesa-tavrijskoho-v-iukharynij-baltsi/
 Eugene Samukha «Загрози втрати об’єкта світової та української спадщини «Херсонесу Таврійського» як наслідок російської окупації», October 03, 2019, Voice of Crimea https://voicecrimea.com.ua/main/articles/the-threat-loss-object-world-and-ukrainian-heritage-tauric-chersonesos-as-consequence-russian-occupation.html
 Article «Російські археологи повідомили про відновлення розкопок у Херсонесі», July 04, 2020, Crimea.Realities, https://ua.krymr.com/a/novyny-krymu-rosiiski-arkheolohy-vidnovliuiut-rozkopky-v-khersonesi/30705729.html
 Article «У Херсонесі біля стін Володимирського собору проводять археологічні розкопки (+фото)», October 22, 2020, UA Crimea, https://ua.krymr.com/a/news-khersones-arkheolohichni-rozkopky/30907513.html
 Follow-up to decisions and resolutions adopted by the Executive Board and the General Conference at their previous sessions, Part I: Programme issues, C. Follow-up of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine), 210 EX/5.I.C + Corr., 09 October 2020, UNESCO, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000374521
Follow-up to decisions and resolutions adopted by the Executive Board and the General Conference at their previous sessions, UNESCO, 202 EX/5 Part I (L) – page 9 http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/IOS/images/202EX5_PartII_rev.pdf
 Follow-up to decisions and resolutions adopted by the Executive Board and the General Conference at their previous sessions, Part I: Programme issues, C. Follow-up of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine), UNESCO, 2020, 210 EX/5.I.C + Corr. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000374521
 Follow-up to decisions and resolutions adopted by the Executive Board and the General Conference at their previous sessions, Part I: Programme issues, C. Follow-up of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine), UNESCO, 2020, 202 EX/5 Part I (A),
 Decree of Vladimir Putin «On the attribution of the Federal State Budgetary Cultural Institution «State Historical-Archaeological Museum-Reserve «Chersones Taurice» to the especially valuable objects of the cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation» № 596, December 7, 2015,
 Ibid, part 3 Article 37-2
 Part 1 Article 50 of Federal law of the Russian Federation «About objects of cultural heritage (historical and cultural monuments) of the people of the Russian Federation») (with amendments from 11 June 2021)» 24 May 2002 https://docs.cntd.ru/document/901820936
 Ibid, Part 3 Article 34
 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, 23rd edition, October 2020, p. 255 https://www.fhi360.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/csosi-europe-eurasia-2019-report.pdf
 Article 61 of Federal law of the Russian Federation “About objects of cultural heritage (historical and cultural monuments) of the people of the Russian Federation”) (with amendments from 11 June 2021)» 24 May 2002 https://docs.cntd.ru/document/901820936
 Article 243 of Criminal code of Russian Federation http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_10699/1fb96b14cf73fbc0d19e9674dd18a7dafd6867f2/
 Article 243.1 of Criminal code Russian Federation http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_10699/2d7653df2115c6ff8d9cb4cfb6671867b84adf43/
 In May 2020 by the Decree of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky sanctions against Federal State Budgetary Institution Of Culture state Hermitage were introduced (note – according to the structure of the structure of the occupying power, now the Hermitage is the governing body of Chersonese). Decree of the President of Ukraine № 184/2020, https://www.president.gov.ua/documents/1842020-33629
Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.