Nine months after the Russian shelling of the port city Odesa on the Black Sea, Italy’s 500,000 EUR promised for the emergency preservation work of the Odesa Cathedral have still not arrived on the bank account of the Odesa Orthodox Eparchy. (We opted for the spelling ‘Odesa’ in the Ukrainian language [Одеса] rather than Odessa in the Russian language [Одесса]).

When the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral was seriously damaged on the night of 23 July 2023 during a massive Russian missile attack on the historical center of Odesa protected by UNESCO, financial support was quickly pledged by some Western actors for emergency repair work, but Father Miroslav, abbot of the Cathedral, has still not seen the first Euros that were promised.

The world community strongly condemned Russia’s act of aggression. Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and the Consul General of the Hellenic Republic in Odesa, Dimitrios Dohtsis were first on the line to quickly announce their support in the media. Later on, they were joined by UNESCO.

Italy was at the forefront of the countries that offered their assistance in the restoration of the destroyed architectural monuments of Odesa. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said: “Italy, which has unique restoration skills in the world, is ready to commit to the reconstruction of the Odessa Cathedral and other treasures of Ukraine’s artistic heritage.”

On 2 October 2023, Italy and Ukraine signed an agreement on assistance in the restoration of the Cathedral and in early December 2023, the payment of the first installment was announced to take place “soon.”

At the beginning of February 2024, an agreement was signed between Italy and UNESCO, according to which Italy would make a first contribution of half a million EUR for the primary emergency restoration work in the Odesa Cathedral.

Despite all these pledges and agreements, nine months later and after a long winter threatening to further damage the almost roofless Cathedral, Italy’s money for the first emergency repair work—500,000 EUR—has still not reached its final destination, the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.


Without the donations of some parishioners and philanthropists, there would have been further irreparable damage to the structure of the building and the artistic historic treasures it was housing.

It is thanks to these donors that repair and restoration work has saved and continues to save the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral, the largest Orthodox church of the city located in the UNESCO World Heritage Zone, whose history under the Soviet Union but also after the independence has been tumultuous.

We consider that a“Red Cross type” scheme is urgently needed to bypass the heavy and burdensome international bureaucracy to save the cultural heritage and thereligious places of worship damaged by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Dr Ievgeniia Gidulianova interviewed Father Miroslav, abbot of the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral for “Bitter Winter” and Human Rights Without Frontiers.


Q.: Father Miroslav, could you please tell us at what stage the work on the restoration of the Cathedral is today? What has already been achieved? How much work is still needed? How much will it cost?

A.: A direct strike by a Russian missile caused colossal destruction to the Cathedral. Half of it was left without a roof, and the rest was in a terrible state. The central reinforced concrete floors were destroyed, the foundation and the walls were significantly damaged, some of which required dismantling due to the threat of collapse. All the windows and stucco moldings were blown out. The communication systems of the Cathedral were damaged. There was a fire in part of the building. Shrapnel and the blast shock completely destroyed the decorative and artistic decoration of the premises of the Upper Church and all the marble iconostases.

It was urgently necessary to dismantle the debris and the walls that threatened to collapse. The rubble under which church relics were housed was six meters high.

Gusts of wind tore off copper panels from the damaged roof of the Cathedral, which flew directly onto the Cathedral Square and nearby streets, creating a serious threat to people’s lives. The autumn rains and winter snows threatened to completely destroy everything that had survived. Moreover, in November, the upper part of the Odessa Cathedral was seriously flooded by rains.


It was necessary to act without delay, but the promised international financial assistance failed to reach us before the bad autumn and winter weather.

Through our joint efforts, with the help of our parishioners and philanthropists, we managed to remove the rubble caused by the missile strike and dismantle emergency structures. Subsequently, we began to restore the roof of the cathedral, and today most of it has been repaired. We also managed to restore all the windows. At present, we have begun to restore the collapsed part of the walls of the building.

This is only a small part of the work that needs to be done but these are priority emergency works that will prevent further destruction of the Cathedral. We have completed 80% of them.

The scope of subsequent work related to the restoration of the interior decoration of the Cathedral still remains to be determined and it is difficult to evaluate the costs. Only one marble iconostasis, which was hit by a Russian missile, cost about 500,000 EUR during the years of its construction.

Q.: Italian officials have repeatedly stated their readiness to participate in the process of repairing and restoring the Cathedral. For several months now, the press has been publishing information about the allocation of a first installment of 500,000 EUR. Did the Cathedral receive this money to pay the entrepreneurs?

A.: Over the past 9 months or so since the missile strike, we have met with Italian and UNESCO officials on several occasions. There was a lot of lively discussion of the topical issues, a lot of hopes and promises.


The last meeting with the participation of the Italian delegation led by Davide La Cecilia, the Special Envoy for the Restoration and Strengthening of Ukraine’s Resilience, representatives of the Odesa City Council, UNESCO, and the Odesa Eparchy was held on 9–10 February 2024.

Representatives of the Odessa diocese asked many questions, the main ones being

  • How much assistance is planned to be provided? By whom?
  • What are the stages of the provision of assistance?
  • When will this assistance actually be available?

We stressed that a lot of time had already passed since the tragedy.

Representatives of the Italian side assured us that their work is being carried out at an unprecedented speed, but each stage requires written confirmation and necessary approvals.

It was a big surprise for us to learn that the first Italian installment, which was widely reported in the press, was planned for a special project related to the restoration of the roof! We had to do it by ourselves as an extreme emergency to save the whole Cathedral before the heavy autumn rains and the winter cold and snows.

We said that the roof of the Odesa Cathedral has already been restored for the most part (2500 square meters have been repaired).


The delegation visited the Cathedral, where we briefed them on the progress of our own emergency response and conservation work. La Cecilia personally took part in the inspection and assured us that he would take all necessary measures to establish productive cooperation and provide the Cathedral with the necessary assistance.

Unfortunately, to date, we have not received any funds from Italy for the restoration of the Cathedral and I have no information about the possible timing of the receipt thereof.

The press published information that in March of this year, UNESCO coordinator Chiara Dezzi Bardeski notified that the international organization had received 500,000 EUR from the Italian government but the Odesa Eparchy did not receive a single Euro and any official report about this.

Q.: How can you collect donations?

A.: We continue to work thanks to our parishioners and philanthropists. Other churches of the Odessa diocese also help us with some donations.

According to a long-standing tradition, which has historically developed during the construction of the Cathedral, we also invite everyone to participate in the restoration by laying their own name brick. The donor independently determines how much he wants to donate for a personalized brick and gives the money to the church directly or by bank transfer. The priest will write his name on the brick that will be placed in the masonry of the church.

Of course, after the completion of the exterior decoration, these names will be hidden under the plaster, but the clergy will always pray for those who put their efforts into the rebuilding of the church.

To collect donations, we have also created the charitable foundation of Metropolitan Agafangel “Restoration of the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa” -.

Despite the difficulties, the religious activities Odesa Cathedral have never been suspended for a single day. Divine services are held daily in the lower church, which survived the missile strike.

We thank all those who expressed their desire and readiness to help in its restoration. This is valuable and necessary. Much remains to be done.

Ievgeniia Gidulianova holds a Ph.D. in Law and was Associate Professor at the Department of Criminal Procedure of Odesa Law Academy between 2006 and 2021. She is now a lawyer in private practice and a consultant for the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers.

To read more, visit the HRWF website here.

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