Following a few days at the hostel in Kolochava, and a few more days of riding, I finally received word from my mom that she was coming to visit us in Ukraine, again. Last year, as we selected an eastward trajectory from France, we conspired to set a date and she bought a plane ticket to Ukraine. We would meet just before my birthday. We planned to visit her father’s family in the southwest, and her mother’s family in the far east, near Luhansk.
Last Monday she wrote, telling me that she would not be able to come visit again this year, regretfully. On Wednesday she wrote again, telling me that she had bought a plane ticket. On Friday, she and my brother arrived in Kyiv and immediately boarded a train to Lviv. Lael and I composed a roundabout route back towards Strij though the mountains. We boarded an electro-poyizd (regional electric train) for the final 60km to Lviv.
Lviv is busy and beautiful, full of pedestrian boulevards and sidewalk cafes. There are tourists, but mostly they are Ukrainian or from elsewhere in nearby Eastern Europe. The city is rustic but not rusting; while many historic structures remain, they are artfully maintained, not artificially renovated as in more popular destinations. To my tastes the city feels more like an improvement upon Prague and even Bratislava. The streets are narrow and cobbled, not wide as in Kyiv, part of which was planned during the Soviet era. And while comparisons to both Paris and Prague are in order for any charming European city, I’d choose neither of those over Lviv. The time to visit Lviv is now, before Ukraine’s economy booms upward and the city becomes more expensive and the cafes are replaced with tourist shops and the Ukrainians are replaced by English and German and Japanese tourists. I believe Lviv is experiencing yet another high period in its long history. It is exceptional.
Lviv may also be the most Ukrainian city, not because it is the most even slice of the country. Rather, the people here intend to preserve Ukrainian language and culture more than anywhere else in Ukraine. Western Ukraine– hundreds of miles from Russia– is also the most Ukrainian part of Ukraine. However, Ukrainianism here is not without fault. The popular red and black flag of the УПА (Ukrainian Insurgent Army)– an organization notorious for fighting both the Nazis and the Russians during WWII, under the leadership of Stepan Bandera– stands as one of several symbols important to nationalistic Ukrainians. This militaristic organization is also responsible for the death of coutless Poles in the region. Nationalism, in almost any form, often has a dark side. Incidentally, the grave of Bandera was recently vandalized in Germany. And yesterday, several Ukrainians ascended a high-rise structure in Moscow, repainting a soviet star in the blue and yellow pattern of the Ukrainian flag, marking their work with a Ukrainian flag atop the 32-story building. These are a sign of the times in this part of the world, although the actual situation is much more grave.
We have been unable to make calls to our family in Stakhanov, in the Luhansk Oblast near the Russian border for several weeks. We hope they are safe.
This region is known for changing borders. The former Galician empire included much of the Ukrainian Carpathian region, and some of Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary.
Someone has decided that smashing the windows of the Russian bank is a good idea.
No military presence is felt in Lviv, although memorials are scattered throughout the city.
As is lighter fare, such as this toilet paper being sold at the touristic market.
Mostly, life continues for residents of Lviv. Tourism is down. Young men and mothers worry about being drafted. Over 2000 Ukrainians have died in the “anti-terrorist” conflict since this spring.
A walk around the city reveals characteristic scenes of Lviv. The aging Lada sedan is ever-present in Ukraine.
Chruches are full on Sunday. We’ve discovered that while riding through the country, we can visit as many as five or six churches on a Sunday morning, during active service.
The Armenian cathedral in Lviv dates to the 1300’s.
Taras Shevchenko is the most famous Ukrainian. A poet, painter, and a fervent supporter of the idea of an independent Ukrainian nation, his likeness or bust stands tall in most every Ukrainian city. He was born a serf in 1814. He died briefly after a period of exile in Russia. He died seven days before the official emancipation of serfs in tsarist Russia in 1861.
Mostly, life continues as usual in Lviv.