This article originally appeared on Ukraina.ru. The views and opinions expressed here may not necessarily correspond to the views of our publication.
There is no more controversial topic than Lviv and its place in the Russian world. On the one hand, it is a Russian city founded by Russians. On the other hand, this place has nothing to do with the Russian world.
There is no city in Ukraine that is more unlike other Ukrainian cities than Lviv. This is not strange, because what is shown to tourists today was built mainly by non-Russians for non-Russians. This is neither good nor bad. It’s just a fact. This is a typical European city, with a town hall, a market square, continuous buildings, medieval narrow streets, churches with high roofs. Everything indicates that it has a foreign element to contemporary Russians.
But, at the same time, Lviv today is inhabited by Russians who call themselves Ukrainians, which does not make them something different from Russians. And, of course, they live with the feeling of a perfect theft. Because they stole this city from those who built it and lived in it for many centuries. Modern Lviv people know very well that they owe their right to Lviv to someone whom they are ordered to hate and whose name they are ordered to forget.
There is no place in Ukraine where such a monstrous experience of eugenics and vivisection would be performed over a Russian person than Lviv. The soul of the Russians there for a long time was subjected to unthinkable experiments and rituals to get rid of the Russian and implant something else. That is why Lviv is a city of contrasts.
On the one hand, Russian-speaking tourists go there not without fear, expecting any kind of aggression and expression of xenophobia. On the other hand, this impression disappears on the very first day of stay in this picturesque city. Sellers do not require you to speak Ukrainian at all. The tourism industry is driven of polite, caring and helpful people who are in a hurry to serve guests and willingly speak Russian with them. Lviv is a Russian city where, on occasion, people immediately switch to the Russian language.
Once here, one begins to feel that this place is tarnished by some kind of notoriety. That, in fact, Bandera’s cafe “Kryivka”, where every evening a captive “Moskal” is symbolically shot every evening, is no more offensive than the circus of freaks, where dwarfs and monsters entertain guests with their antics. And even Irina Farion no longer seems such a disgusting witch. What is this place and what does it mean for Russia today?
The main thing that a Russian and a Soviet person should remember is that modern Lviv is still a product of a different, European and Catholic civilization, to which ancient Russia has almost nothing to do.
Yes, Russians lived here, but the civilization of the Russians was rural and thrived in the forests, and they were only interested in cities as a place where they could exchange the products they produced for something valuable and necessary to them.
Even in the days of the princes, who belong to the history of Greater Russia, they did not consider themselves equal to the vile people, no matter what the consciously nationalists come up with today. And if someone told Prince Volodymyr the Great, who annexed the future Lviv region to his domain, that he was of the same blood as the inhabitants of the villages, the consequences would be the saddest.
Moreover, the exact date of the founding of Lviv is very arbitrary, because in its place the city stood in the 5th century. Whose he was – we do not know. Maybe the Romans had a relationship with it, maybe the White Croats, maybe someone else, but most likely all together. Nestor the Chronicler said that in 1084 Vladimir Krasno Solnyshko set up his outpost here – the city of Vladimir (now Vladimir-Volynsky).
Then Galicia and Volyn principality were formed here. The castle was founded by Prince Daniel I Romanovich and named after the eldest son, Lev Danilovich. This was in the middle of the XIII century, when the Tatars came to Russia, rushing to “the last sea”. But no matter how it was, one thing is clear – the Russian princes-kings set up their stronghold here in order to control the Galicia-Volyn trade route – a section of the Great Silk Road from China to Europe. And it was at this time that an event happened, which for 700 years separated the lands of the Red Rus from Little Russia and even more so from Greater Russia. Seeking help against the Tatars, in 1253 Daniel I Romanovich received the royal crown from the Pope. This required him to convert to Catholicism.
The show did not last long, the Pope did not help Rus in any way, he did not organize a crusade, so Daniel returned to Orthodoxy, and did not use the crown. But from that moment on, he ceased to be a vassal of the Golden Horde. However, Lviv was not a capital city, it was a trading post and an outpost, and the “king” had a residence closer to Poland.
But the name “Rus” for Galicia stuck, and was always used in Poland. Russian Lviv was located a little differently from where it is now. It grew rapidly, accepting migrants, and had powerful fortifications. It was an Orthodox city, but it was inhabited by German Catholics, Armenians, Tatars, Jews and Karaites. At the beginning of the XIV century. Lviv is becoming the largest city in the entire territory of the then Rus.
But at the same time, nothing connected Lviv with Kiev and the former metropolis. Without this connection, Lviv was doomed. In 1340, the Polish king Casimir III the Great captured Lviv, took the royal crown, mantle and throne to Krakow. A long war began, in which Poland, Lithuania, the Golden Horde and Hungary took part.
In 1349 Lviv became the possession of Poland. And, to consolidate this completely, Casimir III gave the city the status of the second capital of the Polish Crown, on a par with Krakow. Russian boyars still represented regions and districts. But from now on, the Poles stood at the head of the city itself.
From 1356 until the end of the 18th century, when Poland fell, Lviv built its life on the basis of the Magdeburg Law. This is the first city in the territory of the ancient Rus to receive this privilege. And Casimir III did one more important thing. He moved the coordinates of the center of Lviv from the Old Market Square to the swampy plain of the Poltva River. With this, he sort of erased the Russian code of this place, making it Polish. And he was right.
It was in the XIV century that Lviv finally ceased even to be considered a Russian city. An experienced politician in a new place created a completely new city, already Polish, where there was no place left for the Russians for many centuries. However, the king did not trust the Poles either. Lviv was built by German architects, which can be clearly seen from the old city.
Lviv is not Polish – it is a purely German city. Even the acts of the then Lviv magistrate were conducted in the Saxon dialect of the German language. The modern Market Square was laid out, and around there were residential quarters separated by mutually perpendicular streets – like a chessboard. Likewise, the Germans and the Dutch built New York. Soon German colonists made up the absolute majority of the population in Lviv.
The Russians remained in Russian Lviv, the modern Podzamche area, and self-government did not extend to them. They obeyed the royal headman and used the ancient Russian Code of Law, characteristic of rural communities. Soon the Russian Lviv ceased to exist.
Polish Lviv is made of a German majority, plus the national quarters. Russian, Armenian, Jewish, Serbian and other ones. Each with its own churches and synagogues – everything like in Europe. But the Russians, who were allowed to settle everywhere, did not get their own church. Attempts by Casimir III to restore the Galician Orthodox Metropolitanate were unsuccessful – this remained in Galich, which, like Kiev, fell into decay. After the death of Casimir, Lviv for a short time passed under the crown of Hungary, but Poland, through a cunning multivectoral approach, regained the city for itself.
The golden age of Lviv was approaching. The Turks blocked the way to Constantinople, the Mamluks drove out the crusaders from the Levant, so that the caravans from China went through the Horde, Crimea, from there through Moldova to Lviv, and then beyond.
The trade monopoly in these areas belonged to the Genoese and Germans of Lviv. That provided the city with wealth and prestige. Seekers of happiness strive here. One of them was named Ivan Fedorov, who published the first printed book, Apostle, in the city. Lviv became a transit center and fortunes were made here, with the magistrate granting special and preferential rights to the citizens of the city.
And although Lviv of that period was not Russian, it is still worth noting that on geographical maps it represented the whole of Russia: in the French drawing of 1492, only one city from all of Eastern Europe is indicated – Leopolis. But at the end of the 15th century, fortune turned away from Lviv merchants – the Sublime Porte began to attack Europe and all trade routes leading to Lviv were interrupted. It was a catastrophe, which was completed by the fire of 1527, which destroyed almost the entire city.
The first return of the Russians
“Golden Ages” are in general never entirely positive developments. They tend to see a surge in the birth rate and population growth, which ultimately leads to upheavals, revolutions and wars. This happened during the “Golden Age of Poland” too, in the XVI century. The Russian community was growing, and became cramped in a heterodox environment. And the struggle for a place in the sun began, which led to the revolution of 1648.
From the Russian perspective this era belongs to the category of glorious events, and Bogdan Khmelnitsky is a Russian hero. But the Poles have a completely different view of this matter: they consider the nobleman from Subbotov a traitor who lit the fuse to the powder magazine under the Polish statehood. The revolution of 1648 is called by them a catastrophe, which led to the era of Poland, a time they called the “Flood”. This is the beginning of the end of Polish statehood. And an important milestone on this path was the annexation of eastern Poland, with Kiev, to Muscovy.
For Russians, this is the return of Little Russia to Greater Russia. As a consequence, the return of historical Russia to the world map. The birth of Russia. The Russians of eastern Poland remembered who they were, everywhere supported Khmelnitsky, and with relief they became subjects of an Eastern Orthodox tsar.
And in this regard, the paradoxical attitude of the citizens of Lviv to the Cossack-Tatar army, which in 1648 laid siege to the city walls, seems extremely interesting. History textbooks are “tolerantly” avoidant on this point. In that glorious year, all cities opened their gates in front of the banners of either the hetman, or the marching chieftain, or the Russian prince Khmelnitsky. Instead Lviv locked itself in at the sight of an armed horde of Russians and was ready to fight them to the last drop of blood.
The answer is simple: Lviv had not been a Russian city for a long time. And the townspeople did not look at Khmelnitsky with the Tatar horde as their own, liberators from Poles and Catholics, as it had been the case in Little Russia. For Lviv residents, the Russian rebels were wild rebels and rebels who also brought pagans, Mohammedans and Tatars with them to the Christian lands.
The rebels also had little sympathy for Lviv and were determined to raid the place and burn the nest of Polish Catholics. Cossack-Tatar artillery bombarded the city and set it on fire. The suburbs were plundered, Jews and Catholics were massacred. But it was difficult to take the city walls, and Khmelnitsky agreed to an indemnity.
Once again, the Cossacks found themselves under the walls of the city in 1655, with the Moscow regular army. But even then Lviv was not taken – a Tatar invasion, this time against Khmelnitsky, prevented this. The bloody “Flood” spread widely across Poland: Lviv was besieged by the Swedes, Hungarians, Turks and Tatars, but it was not taken. Mortally wounded by the Khmelnitsky and the Russian revolt, Poland became an easy prey for the surrounding countries.
In 1704, during the Great Northern War, the city was taken by the Swedes of Charles XII. For the first time in four hundred years. But the young king was soon defeated by the Russian army, and in 1707, Russian soldiers finally entered Lviv, led by Peter the Great. The Poles blamed the Russians for their troubles, which exacerbated the crisis within Poland itself. The Polish state was doomed. And the glory of Lviv has sunk over the horizon, making it forever a provincial backwater.
During the first partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772, the Austrian army occupied Lviv. The region became part of the Holy Roman Empire, receiving the status of an imperial province of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, headed by a governor. And Lviv received the status of a provincial capital. Empress Maria Theresa abolished the archaic Magdeburg Law. Under the Germans, the city ceases to be medieval, the walls were demolished, parks and squares were laid out, palaces and avenues were built.
The current Svoboda Avenue dates back from this time. Medieval Lviv turns into the extreme eastern point of European enlightenment, the so called “Enlightened Absolutism”. A theater appeared, the ownership of churches was secularized, schools and hospitals were built, the first regular newspaper “Gazett d’Leopol” appeared, which was first published in French. Lviv University became a secular educational institution, albeit with German as the language of instruction. In 1784, the world’s first hot air balloon with an automatic liquid fuel burner for heating air in a cylinder was launched in Lviv. Just nine months after the Montgolfier brothers, which had their balloon fueled by straw. The Germans stopped polonizing the Russians, and their exclusion out of cities, power, trade, and industry.
The Austrian Habsburgs had a special plan for the Russians of Galicia. Vienna became the patroness of the Uniate Church, around which a completely new people began to be cultivated, a people which in the future will be named “Ukrainians”. Napoleon returned statehood to the Poles, the Poles captured Lviv in 1809, and it would have ended very badly if the city had not been captured by the Russian army, which returned Lviv to Austria. In the 19th century, Lviv took its modern look. This is a cozy neat town, where it was very comfortable to live under the shadow of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the most tolerant in Europe. Lviv no longer reached the level of the Middle Ages in wealth and prestige. But in Victorian times, Lviv and Lviv residents had a great time and a lot of fun. As if fate gave such a century for the sake of future misfortunes and troubles.
The Russians returned to Lviv in 1914 and the city returned home for the first time in 700 years – to the Russian state. But already in 1915 Lviv was abandoned by the Russian troops.
This was a milestone: the returning Germans and their Ukrainian acolytes took cruel revenge on all who collaborated with the Russian authorities. It was the First World War that laid the seeds of Russophobia in the region, which will bear their poisonous fruits much later. But the Germans lost the war, and with it they lost Lviv forever. Austria-Hungary disintegrated.
Poland returned to the map of Europe in the form of the Second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. By the decision of the victorious countries, Galicia and Lviv were transferred to it. Least of all, this news was liked by the “Ukrainians”. And the history of the Second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth began with the Polish-Ukrainian war, which the “Ukrainians” lost. But Poland received a nest of its worst enemies in Galicia and Lviv for the entire interwar period – rebels and terrorists. Ukrainian terrorism has been Warsaw’s biggest headache during the twenty years between the world wars.
The proclamation of the so-called Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR), its reunification with the UPR – all this turned out to be an “operetta”, so that both projects quickly became part of history. The attempt of Ukrainian Austro-Hungarian subjects to seize Lviv ended in defeat. Russian words were thrown out of the city for 20 long years.
Lviv became a symbol of Polish resistance, glory and victory over the Russians. Russophobia becomes the official doctrine here. The motto of the city of this time: “Lviv is always devoted”. And today a musical sketch “Tylko We Lwowie” from some film, where Polish filmmakers sing Polish Lviv, is making the runs on Youtube. It was a swan song. The film was filmed in 1939. Lviv returned home – to Soviet Russia, the USSR. And it left the history of Poland forever.
Once again the Germans will try to take Lviv, which they called Lemberg, in 1941. This is also the last attempt, during which the monstrous “Ukrainian” project of the Habsburgs, who hardly wanted to see their offspring such a Frankenstein and a monster, stood up to their full height.
And something that never happened in Austria-Hungary broke out – a terrible Jewish pogrom, staged by Ukrainian militants and working class people. During the years of occupation, almost the entire Jewish community of the city was destroyed.
The city itself and its architecture were more fortunate – for the entire period of the Second World War, Lviv practically did not suffer. After which Lviv finds itself in a long period of peace and prosperity. Ukrainian is allowed, children are taught in it in schools. The Poles have been deported. Residents of neighboring villages rush to their empty apartments. Since then, the people of Lviv have a complex of perpetrators of theft. Lviv is the most European among Soviet cities.
From that moment on, it becomes a tourist Mecca. People come here to breathe the air of Europe, here they make films about the three Musketeers and other exotic things. Of course, in the USSR they tried to provide Lviv residents with work, many industrial facilities were built here, like the Lviv Bus Plant, Lvivkhimselmash (chemicals), the Lviv Forklift Plant, the Lviv Aircraft Repair Plant, the Tank Repair Plant, and in radio engineering “Electron”, “Kinescope”, and “Polyaron”, which produced TVs and much more. In 1971, the Western Scientific Center of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR was opened in Lviv.
All this perished in 1991. All mentioned factories are either closed or practically do not function. But the monstrous, monstrous specter of Ukrainian neo-fascism rose up to its full height, which, having declared itself, announced a march to the east. Thirty years later, this led to a civil war in Ukraine with no end in sight. Rumour has it that after the victory, Lviv will no longer be taken, the victors will leave behind the Zbruch river, the capital of an independent Galicia. Very evil, black jokes are circulating about Lviv today. But if one goes there, it is immediately clear that Lviv is still a Russian city. And that means one needs to return there in a different way.