Recommended Readings, The Times We Live In
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Protecting the pearl of the Black Sea

The historic center of Odesa, the Ukranian city known as the pearl of the Black Sea, was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List on Wednesday. This recognition by the United Nations’ cultural agency was taken at a time when the port city remains under threat from Russia’s invasion of the country.

The UN statement says that it is now “the duty of all humanity” to protect it.

In 2006, I had an unforgettable and life-enriching trip when I visited Odesa (also spelled Odessa), Yalta, Sevastopol, the Ukrainian countryside, the painted churches of Romania, Istanbul, and more on a National Trust Tour. The mix of history and present-day world politics was laid before us, in the places we visited and in the analysis provided by Ambassador Jack Matlock, the U.S. government’s representative at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We climbed the famous “Primorsky Stairs” — better known as the “Potemkin Stairs” (or Odessa Steps) in honor of its significance in cinema history — and walked the streets of the historic city. I made life-long friends among those who joined the tour and came away with a much deeper appreciation for the country’s history and its struggle for independence.

Odesa’s monumental Potemkin Stairs, immortalized in “The Battleship Potemkin,” lead down to the waterfront with its Vorontsov Lighthouse.
A 2006 street scene in Odesa

As my dear friend, INTO Secretary-General Catherine Leonard, wrote upon hearing the outcome of the group’s meeting in Paris, the UNESCO recognition is…

Such uplifting news — and a reminder of the importance of global cooperation. Designation as a World Heritage Site recognises Odesa’s universal value and the duty of all to protect it.

UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay also spoke to the global cooperation that will be necessary to save this cultural landmark in a statement:

As the war continues, this inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always risen from the heartbreak of the world, is preserved from further destruction.

Earlier this week, distinguished professor Timothy Snyder posted the insightful essay Why the world needs Ukrainian victory in his Substack newsletter. I encourage you to click through and read the entire post.

His list of fifteen reasons begins with one of the most important:

1.  To halt atrocity.  Russia’s occupation is genocidal.  Wherever the Ukrainians recover territory, they save lives, and re-establish the principle that people have a right not to be tortured, deported, and murdered.

Several of Snyder’s reasons leap off the page in their urgency, while others are more subtle, yet nonetheless crucial to the defense of democracy and the rule of law.

3.  To end an era of empire.  This could be the last war fought on the colonial logic that another state and people do not exist.  But this turning point is reached only if Russia loses.

7.  To remind us that democracy is the better system.  Ukrainians have internalized the idea that they choose their own leaders.  In taking risks to protect their democracy, they remind us that we all must act to protect ours.

13.  To guarantee food supplies and prevent future starvation.  Ukraine feeds much of the world.  Russia threatens to use that food as a weapon.  As one Russian propagandist put it, “starvation is our only hope.” 

15.  To affirm the value of freedom.  Even as they have every reason to define freedom as against something — Russian occupation –, Ukrainians remind us that freedom is actually for something, the right to be the people they wish to be, in a future they can help shape.

Snyder ends with a powerful two paragraphs that should be amplified whenever possible. His core message: we have a real chance to turn this century around … if only we help Ukraine win.

I am a historian of political atrocity, and for me personally number 1 — defeating an ongoing genocidal project — would be more than enough reason to want Ukrainian victory.  But every single one of the other fourteen is hugely significant.  Each presents the kind of opportunity that generations of policy planners wish for, but almost never get.  Much has been done, we have not yet seen and seized the moment.

This is a once-in-lifetime conjuncture, not to be wasted.  The Ukrainians have given us a chance to turn this century around, a chance for freedom and security that we could not have achieved by our own efforts, no matter who we happen to be.  All we have to do is help them win.

More to come…


Image of Odesa’s Opera Theatre building taken by DJB in 2006.

This entry was posted in: Recommended Readings, The Times We Live In


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: January observations | More to Come...

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