Ukraine: Odessa’s cathedral weakened during the bombing

A worried-looking group of Ukrainian officers look at cracks in the back wall of the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa, a spectacular building hit during the Russian bombing of the great port city.

“The danger is that the part of the building where this crazy Russian missile hit is shaking,” Odessa mayor Gennady Trokhanov told AFP in front of the partially destroyed Orthodox cathedral on the night of Saturday to Sunday.

“We will start demolishing this wall immediately. If it collapses on its own it will bring down the whole building”, the mayor said shortly afterwards, addressing Metropolitan Agafunguel, the 84-year-old Orthodox cleric in charge of the diocese.

Odessa, a strategic port on the Black Sea whose historic center was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at the beginning of the year, has until then been relatively spared from a Russian offensive launched in February 2022.

After backing out of a deal to export Ukrainian grain in mid-July, Russia began shelling the city’s port areas, damaging some of Odessa’s oldest and best buildings.

Established more than 200 years ago and destroyed by the Soviet Union in 1936, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration was rebuilt in the early 2000s thanks to donations. It was consecrated in 2010 by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.

– “it’s horrible” –

The city’s mayor asked the Metropolitan for permission to proceed with the partial demolition of the building. They told him, “Convince the parishioners that it is not safe. They should not live here.”

“It is terrible, appalling. A tragedy. What a holy place!” Metropolis mourns.

Not long before, he had visited the cathedral with ecclesiastics wearing hard hats. During an outdoor service, worshipers wept as they listened to songs and hymns.

Large golden icons and the faces of cherubs were placed on the outer walls. Inside, volunteers sweep the floor and stack tattered and broken signs.

Recently completed frescoes have been torn down, revealing a concrete and metal structure.

“These walls are not just walls. They were put up by our hands, by our love. Now it’s such a big blow, so much pain, so much sadness,” said Galina, a 58-year-old devotee who sells candles to raise funds for restoration.

“This church is the pride of Odessa,” says another 85-year-old worshiper, also named Galina, examining an icon of the Blessed Virgin, salvaged and nearly intact.

– “Hatred” –

The building belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. Although he has severed ties with Russia, many in Ukraine still consider him loyal to it.

Archpriest Maximian Pogorelovsky, 31, a spokesman for the Odessa diocese, said that, like other clerics, he felt “hate” and “mindlessness” in the face of the Russian bombardment.

He says, “So we can say with certainty that they[the Russians]probably targeted the cathedral to intimidate and confuse us.”

The Kremlin denied the building was targeted, assuring that the destruction was caused by Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles that were fired to intercept Russian rockets that fell on the city.

The archdiocese links the destruction of the original cathedral by the Soviet Union in 1936 to the more recent invasion.

They say, “This cathedral was rebuilt, everyone was happy, and now the successors of Bolshevism – Russian rockets – have destroyed this cathedral.”

-The roof blew off-

In addition to the cathedral, recent attacks also affected the historic House of Scientists, whose windows were blown out, a professional center, and apartment buildings near the port.

In the family apartment on the top floor of a 19th-century stone building, Asiya Kachperouk, a 22-year-old student and dancer, tucks her belongings between the destroyed walls and the leaky ceiling.

“This is our apartment, what’s left of it,” the student shows bitterly.

The family, staying at a hotel, fear heavy rains could destroy the apartment, which has largely lost its roof.

According to Asiya’s mother Katarina, the authorities said that their building was under UNESCO protection and therefore “nothing could be done”.

“Will they wait for it to collapse?” he is worried.

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