Almost 100 sites listed in eight Ukrainian regions by the United Nation's cultural agency UNESCO have been damaged or totally destroyed since Russia attacked its neighbour.

UNESCO uses satellite images and witness reports from the scene to verify information provided by the Ukrainian authorities.
UNESCO uses satellite images and witness reports from the scene to verify information provided by the Ukrainian authorities. (AP)

Almost 100 cultural and religious sites in Ukraine have sustained damage since the start of the Russian military operation on February 24, the United Nation's cultural agency UNESCO has said.

"The mark of 100 damaged or totally destroyed sites will be reached on Thursday or Friday – this morning we are at 98 sites and monuments listed in eight regions of the country," Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of world heritage at UNESCO, told in an interview on Wednesday.

He said these included a range of sites, including some from the early mediaeval era to others seen as landmarks of early Soviet architecture.

"The number could rise still further," Eloundou Assomo warned, saying some areas were becoming accessible only now while others were the scene of intensifying fighting.

"Some of these sites and monuments will take time to rebuild and others probably cannot be rebuilt at all."

He warned that any targeting of buildings bearing the UNESCO-backed Blue Shield that signals cultural heritage "is a violation of international law and could also be considered a war crime".

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Concern grows

The estimate represents a near doubling of the previous number UNESCO issued two weeks ago as concern grows over the consequences of the assault for Ukrainian cultural heritage.

UNESCO uses satellite images and witness reports from the scene to verify information provided by the Ukrainian authorities.

None of those confirmed damages is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ukraine, such as the Saint-Sophia Cathedral and monastic buildings of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra in the capital.

However, the historic centre of the city of Chernihiv, which has seen damage in heavy fighting, is on the Tentative List, meaning Ukraine wants it considered for World Heritage status.

"As for the seven sites classified as World Heritage by Unesco, they have so far not been damaged, according to the information we have," Eloundou Assomo said.

In a letter sent on March 17, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, UNESCO's Director General Audrey Azoulay reminded Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia's obligations under an international convention to protect cultural heritage during conflict.

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Source: AFP