As we do remember, the war with Russia began in 2014 with the seizure of Crimea. Sevastopol was one of the first cities where Russian checkpoints appeared and power was criminally seized.
In addition to the defining factor of this war – the base of the Black Sea fleet of the aggressor, Sevastopol has one more very important object – an archaeological monument of world cultural heritage – the ancient city of Tauris Chersonesus with a Chora – an agricultural district.
This attraction includes not only museum facilities and the territory of the National Reserve “Tauris Chersonesus”, but also protected areas with ancient homesteads and land delimitation of the citizens of the Chersonesus polis, that is, part of the Chora of the ancient city. Speaking in the language of the State Geocadastre of Ukraine, the vast majority of land in the immediate vicinity of the sea received either protected status without building rights, or significant height restrictions in the buffer zones of the UNESCO monument, which covered almost all the undeveloped territories of the city of Sevastopol.
Therefore, everything that happened during the occupation of the Chersonesus Reserve is directly related to the factor of the reserve land, which “received” from the occupiers “designation” in the form of a dominant “cradle of Russian Orthodoxy”, which became the goal of the Kremlin.
This question was investigated by Evelyna Kravchenko, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
The ancient city of Tauris Chersonesus in the city of Sevastopol, the fortresses of Chembalo in the town of Balaklava and Kalamita in the town of Inkerman, according to the so-called “order” of the Ministry of Culture of the aggressor Nikolai Malakov dated June 8, 2016, No. 1279, “were included” as an allegedly “discovered object of cultural heritage and a memorial site” “ancient city of Tauris Chersonesus and the fortresses of Chembalo and Kalamita” in the “unified state register of objects of cultural heritage (monuments of history and culture) of the peoples of the Russian Federation” as an allegedly “object of cultural heritage of federal importance”, with a fake “confirmation of the borders of its territory”.
This characteristic event in the history of the occupation of Crimea did not happen by chance, not immediately after the annexation attempt, but in the middle of 2016. This has nothing common with the status of a monument of international significance, since this status does not prevent the Russian Federation from actively destroying the monument now. This is not connected with the supposed pressure of the international community of intellectuals and cultural heritage guardians, since at the moment the consequences of this pressure on the Russian Federation have not been noticed. So what happened then in the summer of 2016 and how did it affect further events unfolding around Chersonesus?
So, what is remarkable about Tauris Chersonesus and why did it receive the status of a monument of world cultural heritage? Chersonesus is an ancient Greek and Byzantine city that arose on the shore of Quarantine Bay on the Herakleian Peninsula in the North-Western part of Crimea, which now represents the Russian-occupied Sevastopol city council of Ukraine. The exact date of foundation of Tauris Chersonesus has not been established.
During almost the entire 20th century, the generally accepted date of foundation was 422-421 BC by the Dorian Greeks from Heraclea of Pontus together with the Boeotians under the sign of the Delphic oracle as a Greek polis on the northern coast of the Black Sea. During the ancient period, the city became an important trade, craft and political center of the southwestern coast of Taurika. Chersonesus is located between the Quarantine and Sand bays within the modern city of Sevastopol.
However, the oldest archaeological finds in Chersonese – fragments of black-figure pottery – date back to the turn of the third and fourth quarter of the VI century BC, which gave researchers arguments for re-dating the foundation of the city, which is still being discussed. According to Strabo’s evidence, along with Tauris Chersonesus, there was another city, which Strabo calls Ancient Chersonesus, and which in scientific literature received the name “Strabonic”.
Tauris Chersonesus is one of the most vivid examples of the city planning of the ancient Greek architect Hippodamus, which is based on a system of longitudinal and transverse streets intersecting at right angles, forming quarters – insules.
In the second quarter-middle of the IV century. before our era, under the leadership of Agasikles, the Herakleian Peninsula was divided into agricultural allotments – cleres, belonging to the citizens of the polis, which formed the districts of Chersonese – the Chorus. Cleres separated longitudinal and transverse roads that intersected at right angles to the locality.
The economic and political flowering of Tauris Chersonesus in ancient times occurred in the IV-II centuries BC. It was a democratic state, the territory of which by the 3rd century BC extended to North-Western Taurika, annexed Kerkinitida, Kalos-Lymen and other Greek cities and settlements on the Western coast of Taurika. Chersonesus had its own mint. The basis of his economy was agriculture, animal husbandry, sea fishing, winemaking, other crafts and trade.
Byzantine Kherson or Korsun mentiponed in “Tale of Bygone Years” is a powerful eastern outpost of the Byzantine Empire, one of the earliest centers of Christianity, and later, after it was captured by Kiev’s Prince Vladimir of Svyatoslav in 988, it was also a powerful trading center and a rich city on the way from Constantinople.
The city existed for about two thousand years until the end of the 14th century, and finally ceased to exist after a number of attacks and robberies. It lost its importance as a trading cell after the fall of Constantinople and Kiev. However, the spread of influence on these territories of the Ottoman Empire did not stop the existence of the Christian monastery of the Virgin of Blacherna, which is connected with one of the early Christian necropolises in Kherson and the temple on the Maiden Mountain.
The monastery has ceased to be mentioned in sources since the 17th century, it is from this time that the established Christian tradition in South-Western Crimea, which probably originates from one of the earliest Christian communities that existed in Chersonese, is interrupted.
The study of the ruins of the former Chersonesus began in 1827, and systematic excavations began in 1876. During the excavations, the remains of fortification structures of different construction periods, residential quarters built with tanks for collecting rainwater, separate water collection tanks, thermal baths, household and craft structures were found; more than 50 Christian churches, ancient theater, etc. There were necropolises outside the city walls.
Ukraine defines and considers the ancient city of Tauris Chersonesus as a monument of archeology, history, and architecture according to Resolution No. 928 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine dated September 3, 2009. The land plot on which the monument is located has cadastral number 8536400000:02:003.
On June 23, 2013, at the 37th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which was held in Cambodia, Tauris Chersonesus and its Chora (agricultural district) were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
According to the nomination dossier, the attraction was managed by the National Nature Reserve “Tauris Chersonesus” (NRTC), which is located at Drevnyaya Street 1, Sevastopol, and on the territory of which is the settlement of the ancient city of Tauris Chersonesus is located. The fortresses of Chembalo and Kalamita are recognized as branches of the NRTC. The plots of the Chora of Chersonesus, which are part of the protected territory of the world cultural heritage monument, have the status of lands of historical and cultural designation and occupy the corresponding formed land plots with state cadastral numbers assigned to them.
Actually, the well-preserved, unbuilt choir of Chersonesus on the Herakleian peninsula and the unique layout of both the city itself and the clergy on the choir were the main argument for the inclusion of this monument in the world heritage, as well as an insignificant change in the historical topography, when the modern landscape as a whole corresponds to what seen in that place in ancient times. It is this immutability that is the object of UNESCO protection.
At the same time, the guarantor of the monument’s safety was the state of Ukraine represented by the Ministry of Culture and Arts and Culture. Constant friction over the land plots, which were supposed to receive the protected status of a world heritage monument, provoked certain disputes between the state in the person of the reserve, the city council, which lost control over permits for the development of very expensive seaside lands, and the church, which claimed since 1992 the premises of reserve according to the law on the return of religious buildings, that is, the buildings of the St. Vladimir Monastery, which housed the Chersonesus Museum since Soviet times.
So, what happened in 2016 and what preceded it? 2014 was “relatively quiet” for the Chersonesus Reserve. As noted by the employees who remained in the occupation, the Russian invaders promised them in the spring of 2014 that they would “neither change the structure of the reserve nor the staff”. However, already in autumn, illegal events began to take place in the reserve, which determined its fate in the following years.
At first, it was quite expected that the occupiers “removed” general director Leonid Zhunko, who apparently did not forgive him for his desperate attempt to stop the Sabbath in the Sevastopol City Council, when the “militia” criminally “elected” the fake “people’s governor” Chaly.
At first, Russian occupiers declared Larisa Sedykova, who had previously been the “deputy for scientific work of the reserve”, to be the “executive director”. Subsequently, the occupiers held illegal “director elections” and announced illegally as such Andrey Kulagin, who had previously headed the “department of underwater research” and by that time had already enjoyed the patronage of the famous Russian underwater archaeologist Viktor Lebedynskyi, who subsequently conducted illegal research both in Crimea and Syria. Andrey Kulagyn was the son of one of the deputies of the city council of Sevastopol.
Andrei Kulagin was connected with officials and business circles of the city of Sevastopol. However, on July 29, 2015, Menyailo, the fake “governor” of Sevastopol from the occupiers, was appointed to the fake “position” of “general director of the reserve” by Father Serhiy Khalyuta, the abbot of the Vladimir Cathedral located on the territory of the reserve and belonging to the community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The cathedral itself was destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War and was restored in the early 2000s at the expense of the city of Kyiv under the patronage of the City Mayor Alexander Omelchenko.
However, the priest soon left the fake “director’s post”. After the “criticism” of this step both from the Ministry of Culture of Russia and from Putin’s entourage, as well as after the announcement that the “appointment was not agreed” with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill, Moscow reported that this event prompted “to quickly provide the reserve with federal status”, which led to the above events of June 2016.
Actually, the struggle between several groups of influence of the occupiers – the “Institute of Oriental Studies”, which worked through the Moscow government and probably cooperated with the FSB, collaborators from the remnants of the influential clans of Sevastopol, who hoped to hold on to the occupation “authorities”, and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), when Svetlana Melnikova, close to the Russian Orthodox Church, who previously headed the Vladimir-Suzdal Reserve in Russia, was “appointed” to the fake “director’s position” by the occupiers, who in fact handed it over to the ROC.
However, she did not hold the position of director for long. At the beginning of 2019, Elena Morozova, who previously headed the Water Canal Museum in St. Petersburg, replaced her in this fake position of “General Director of the Tauris Chersonesus Museum-Reserve”. It would seem that what do the water canals of the city on the Neva and the ancient Greeks of the north of Pontus have in common?
But as it turned out, this question is not in the field of ancient history or archeology – the new “head” of the Chersonesus Museum has become the “right hand” of Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, who is said to be Putin’s godfather. It was through her that the “My History” fund, created under the “Patriarchal Council for Culture”, began to operate in Chersonesus, and it was from this time that the systematic gross violations by the occupiers of not only the legal and administrative regime, but also the actual protection and use of the monument of world cultural heritage intensified – the ancient city of Tauris Chersonesus and its Chora.
Violations of Ukrainian legislation and internationally recognized norms and rules in the field of preservation of cultural values during the armed conflict are divided into two large categories in Chersonesus. The first is the implementation of illegal “restoration works and improvements”, for example, in the area of Zeno’s tower of the III century BC and the peribolus, as a secluded passage-corridor to the main gate (proteichism), on the territory of the world heritage monument “Ancient city of Chersonesos Tavrice and its Chora”.
The executors of these criminal works were the illegal “administration” of the “Tauris Chersonesus Museum-Reserve” of the Ministry of Culture of Russia, the “My History” fund, with “time limits” in 2017-2020. The remains of the cultural layer to a depth of 1 meter or more were destroyed by the occupiers as a foundation for the construction of the “observation platform”, and the “observation platform” itself fenced off the view of the peribolus with the Proteichism and the main defensive wall with towers, including the largest tower of Zeno.
Around the tower of Zeno, the occupiers placed “devices for an additional entrance” to the “summer theater” illegally built on the remains of the Roman barracks, and along the walls, the Russian invaders placed “small architectural forms”.
The second largest category of violation of the use and protection of cultural heritage in Chersonesus was illegal excavations with the aim of changing the historical landscape and building new infrastructure facilities.
These are large-scale excavations illegally carried out by the Russian invaders in the protected zone of the Tauris Chersonesus National Reserve, the buffer zone of the attractions of national importance – the town of Tauris Chersonesus, the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Ancient City of Tauris Chersonesus and its Chora”, in particular, in such components of the monument as southern fortification structures, ash pits and necropolises in the lower part of Devichya Balka.
The works were carried out by the illegal “Tauris Chersonesus Museum-Reserve Administration” of the aggressor’s Ministry of Culture, the occupiers-controlled “My History” fund, the mentioned “Patriarchal Council of Culture”, the Russian “State Hermitage”, and also the “Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences”. 2020-2022 were defined as the “work deadlines”, and the “work clients” were the aggressor’s Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Defense.
The result of these vandalism “works” directly on the monument of world cultural heritage was a completely destroyed, previously unexplored section of the suburbs of Chersonesus.
In addition, the emphasis on the world heritage monument is actually being transferred from the construction remains of ancient times, which show the high social and cultural level of Greek society at that time, to “modern structures and museum complexes”, which, according to the criminal design of the occupying “authority”, called to preach the so-called “Russian Orthodoxy”, allegedly “originating from Chersonesus”, and other pseudo-historical concepts, with which the Russian Federation justifies its aggression.
In other words, the Russian Federation, violating all possible international normative documents and its own international obligations on the occupied monument of world cultural heritage, is creating a new powerful ideological center that allegedly “should justify” and unscientifically “explain” the new Russian ideology and military aggression.