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A dish served cold

UNESCO recognizes Ukrainian borshch soup as endangered heritage

As Russia criticizes move, Kyiv’s culture ministry hails ‘victory in the borshch war,’ says country will also win in battlefield

Borscht with sour cream (photo credit: Liz West from Boxborough, MA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Borscht with sour cream (photo credit: Liz West from Boxborough, MA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

PARIS, France — The UN’s cultural agency on Friday inscribed the culture of cooking borshch soup in Ukraine on its list of endangered cultural heritage, in a move urged by Kyiv but vehemently opposed by Moscow.

Ukraine considers borshch — a thick nourishing soup usually made with beetroot — a national dish, although it is also widely consumed in Russia, other ex-Soviet countries and Poland. It is also common in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, and is also known as borscht.

The culture of Ukrainian borshch cooking “was today inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding” by a UNESCO committee.

The decision was approved after a fast-track process prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the “negative impact on this tradition” caused by the war, UNESCO said.

Kyiv hailed the move, with Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko saying on Telegram that “victory in the borshch war is ours… will win both in the war of borshch and in this war.”

Adding the soup culture to the UNESCO list aims to mobilize attention to ensure it is preserved despite risks to its existence.

The committee noted that the war had “threatened the viability” of the soup culture in Ukraine.

“The displacement of people [poses a threat]… as people are unable not only to cook or grow local vegetables for borshch, but also to come together… which undermines the social and cultural well-being of communities.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had slammed the move as a bid to make it belong to “one people… one nationality… This is xenophobia,” she said.

But UNESCO noted that Ukrainian borshch was just a version of a dish popular elsewhere and was essential to daily life in the country.

“Ukrainian borshch — the national version of borscht consumed in several countries of the region — is an integral part of Ukrainian family and community life.”

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