When Vladimir Putin’s troops approached the capital for the last time, they razed it to the ground.
Ultimately, Russia gained control of Chechnya when Putin installed a pro-Kremlin government.
Now in Ukraine, the survival of the nation is at stake as Russian forces advance, destroying cities and residential areas, upending lives and forcing more than 3 million Ukrainians to flee the country.
Kyiv is one of its many gems: a city over 1,500 years old, a once bustling capital of 2.8 million and home to irreplaceable international treasures, including architectural and cultural landmarks.
With a drawn-out urban strife that threatens to devastate Ukraine’s capital, here are some of the places experts say are in danger.
Saint Sophia Cathedral
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Topped with glittering golden domes, St. Sophia Cathedral is in the center of Kyiv, attracting visitors with its colorful mosaics and frescoes depicting various saints and angels. Built in the 11th century, it reflects the architecture of that time and the interior art has survived to this day.
The splendor of the structure lies in the fact that it has preserved gold and glass mosaics inside – one of the few mosaics from the 11th century, Pevni said. Local builders and Byzantine craftsmen worked on its construction.
“The walls of this structure are covered with meters and meters of glass mosaics, as well as images and frescoes from the 11th and 12th centuries,” Pevni told CNN.
On top of the ancient mosaics are layers of painting. “You can see how the medieval past interacts with the early modern period, with the 19th century, with the modern period, just by entering St. Sophia Cathedral,” Pevny explained.
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral and Monastery
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When this church was built in 1108, it was the only one in Kyiv with golden domes.
The church served as a refuge for those affected during the outbreak of violence, taking in those who needed medical attention, said Sergiy Yekelchik, a professor of Ukrainian history at the University of Victoria..
Later, a memorial service and a candlelight rally were held there in memory of those who died in 2014 protesting against the government of Yanukovych, the leader who later fled the country.
Monastery of the Caves
The cave monastery, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes underground churches and other structures that symbolize architectural and artistic styles from the Middle Ages to the present.
The monastery also houses the relics of saints dating back to the 10th century.
Founded in the 11th century, Pevny says it is rich in the Cossack Baroque architectural style, unique to Ukraine and haunting Russian leaders in the past because it symbolizes Ukrainian identity in a unique way.
Over time, the caves became a spiritual and cultural center, where Christians from all over the world came.
The architectural monument was built at the end of the 18th century under the rule of Russia and has been reconstructed several times since then. The building underwent a complete restoration between 2003 and 2017, during which the facade of the palace and its interior were completely restored, according to the website of the palace.
Since important events are held here, including summits, official receptions, ambassadorial ceremonies and meetings of foreign delegations, Yekelchik warned that the palace could become a target during the ongoing war.
“Looking at the palace today, you might think that the Ukrainian authorities deliberately painted it in the colors of the national flag, but this color scheme – a combination of soft, discreet yellow with turquoise, with white columns – is actually typical of the Baroque era,” Yekelchyk said.
It was built at the height of the Cold War, when it was vital for the Soviet Union to demonstrate its military power, Yekelchik said. Now at the base of the statue is the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II.
Recently, the sculpture’s meaning has been rethought in light of the current war, especially as it faces east.
“I think it is in the process of becoming a ‘Ukrainian homeland’… which now finally has an explanation for why it faces east… because the enemy is coming from the east,” said Yekelchik, who was born and raised in Kyiv.
On February 4, the monument was illuminated with blue and yellow lights, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide
The candle-shaped monument commemorates the 10.5 million Ukrainians who fell victim to the man-made famine deliberately directed against Ukraine between 1932 and 1933 by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. “Holodomor” in translation from Ukrainian means death from starvation.
“Russia and Ukraine now have very different attitudes towards the Soviet past, and this candle is a symbol of what the Soviet past means to Ukrainians: tragedy, terror, death, an attempt to erase the cultural identity of the nation,” Yekelchik said.
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Babi Yar is one of the largest mass graves commemorating the Nazi genocide in Europe.
“There you find yourself in the past,” says Yekelchik. “And when modern rockets arrive there, the ghosts of past atrocities of all stripes are called.”
National Opera of Ukraine
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Opening its doors in 1867, the opera saw the best Russian and Ukrainian singers of the early 20th century. In 1897, the ballet group of the theater was created, which made it possible to expand the poster and enrich the performances with dances. The Neo-Renaissance design of the building features tall arches and decorative stucco work.
“I think that the value of the building for Ukrainians is connected with the development of the national singing school. Ukrainians see themselves as a singing nation, and their beautiful folk songs are often seen as the foundation of their national identity,” Yekelchik told CNN.
The main mission of the theater is “to spread the beauty and grandeur of opera and ballet art and to contribute to Ukrainian and world culture,” its website says.
Over the past decade, “Turandot” and “Manon Lescaut” by Giacomo Puccini and “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare have been staged here, the site notes.
National Art Museum of Ukraine
The museum houses some of the country’s most significant works of art, including religious paintings from the Middle Ages, as well as rare portraits of historical figures.
Here you can see medieval icons of the 12th century, as well as a collection of Cossack portraits of the Baroque era of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The museum also houses major works by 19th-century Ukrainian realist artists who expressed their love for Ukraine by depicting its nature and peasants, Yekelchik explained.
Here are some of the best examples of Ukrainian avant-garde painting.
“Many avant-garde artists faced repressive Soviet measures in the 1930s and their work was destroyed, which makes the surviving examples all the more valuable,” says Pevny.
Monument to Taras Shevchenko
Taras Shevchenko is considered one of the greatest Ukrainian poets. Born in the 19th century, his work focused on the independence of his country. He spent time in exile and in prison for his work criticizing authoritarianism.
Several structures were built in honor of Shevchenko, testifying to his historical influence on the country. In Kyiv, a monument was erected to him, as well as a museum and a park dedicated to his legacy.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the school of Sergei Yekelchik, professor of Ukrainian history at the University of Victoria.