Kyiv to Lviv: August 26, 2018

On Sunday morning I met up with the bike tour folks for our postponed bike tour of the Trukhaniv Island in the Dnipro and other riverside sites. I dropped by McDonald’s beforehand for breakfast since nothing was open. It was fine. I hadn’t been to one in 25 years.

We started our ride near Mariinskyi Park, which connects to the bike trails heading down the deep banks to the Dnipro bridges. The park was built as part of the Mariinskyi Palace, which was built for Empress Marie, the wife of Tsar Alexander II. From there we descended to the Dnipro and crossed the pedestrian/bike-only Park Bridge over to Trukhaniv Island, which is quite large and unspoiled and is a popular beach and picnic site for Kyivans and tourists. It’s pretty unspoiled and my guide had trouble keeping up with me as I tore across the gravel towards one of the beaches.

We stopped at the massive Ilya Muromets Memorial, which had just been dedicated three weeks earlier. He was a famous warrior of the Kyivan Rus’.

When I got back to the hotel I checked out and bade farewell to the lovely receptionist. She expressed her hope that someday soon Ukraine would be a prosperous democracy so that her children could thrive. I somehow elicit these hopeful comments while traveling. My sad-faced driver took me back to Boryspil Airport for the short flight to Lviv.

From Lviv Airport I grabbed an Uber to my exquisite Airbnb right on Svobody (Freedom) Avenue in the heart of Lviv. Before 1939, Lviv, then known as Lwow, was part of the Second Polish Republic. Stalin grabbed it after he and Hitler partitioned Poland in late 1939. People often forget that Hitler and Stalin were allies for almost two years before the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941.

Before 1918 Lviv, also know as Lemberg, had been part of the Austrian Crown Lands, and the Austrian influence is widely visible in the architecture. My Airbnb was right across from the Lviv National Opera, a neo-Baroque theater built by the Austrians at the end of the 19th century.

Before the first partition of Poland, which was divided up by Catherine the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia and the Austrian Hapsburg emperor, Lviv had long been part of the powerful Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which ruled a vast area of Eastern Europe for centuries. It was so powerful that the then-Pope christened it The Bulwark of Christendom.

The Commonwealth long ruled what is known as Right Bank Ukraine, which is the area west of the Dnipro. The Ukrainians had a love/hate relationship with the Poles, and had several uprisings against them. One of the legacies from the Commonwealth era is the Uniate Church, which is unique in that is has an Orthodox liturgy and a married priesthood, but is under the authority of the Pope.

Under the more liberal Austrians, Lviv became a center of the Ukrainian revival and its language was restored. It became the thriving capital of Galicia, and its population was divided equally among Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, with a small Armenian community. Stalin sent thousands of Poles to Siberia or forced them back to Poland, while the Jews were largely sent to the Nazi concentration camps. Stalin wanted Lviv to be a Ukrainian city, and so it remains.

Lviv is perhaps the most nationalistic city in Ukraine and its inhabitants speak Ukrainian overwhelmingly. In the US, immigrants from Galicia were known as Ruthenians, and many settled in the Pennsylvania coal and steel regions. A significant number emigrated to the Canadian Prairie Provinces and established prosperous wheat farms.

The historic core is really atmospheric, like Prague. Wandering around the streets after a cooling rain generated an appetite, so I walked back to Market Square and had an excellent meal at Centaur, located inside a 16th century building. During the long trip through Eastern and Central Europe in 2018, I often consulted for restaurant suggestions. They’re usually spot on.

I had a drink at the bar next door and had a nice conversation with a Swedish couple before heading back to the apartment. I’d booked two walking tours for the next day and looked forward to a restful sleep.

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