Ukrainians Fight Over New Face For Ancient Lviv

LVIV, Ukraine -- The city of Lviv, a jewel of architectural beauty, is marking its 750th anniversary with a makeover of its main square, but the elaborate project has enraged historians and civic activists.

Tourists and local residents relax on a sunny afternoon in Rynok Square in central Lviv.

The local council is eager to end decades of decay and attract tourists from throughout Europe to the cobbled streets and intriguing alleyways of a city that over the past century has been run by Austrians, Poles, Soviets and now Ukrainians.

But the restoration has provoked intense debate about whether post-Soviet Ukraine is capable of preserving its artistic treasures for future generations.

Lviv's town center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and Rynok Square, already reconstructed several times after wars or fires, has always been its focal point.

Critics say the latest project has disfigured the square.

"Imagine taking an elderly woman and applying lipstick, mascara and rouge to turn her into a young girl," said Valery Potyuk, a sculptor who heads the Lviv branch of Ukraine's Cultural Fund.

"You cannot look at her because it is both unpleasant and unnatural. The art which pervaded Rynok Square has disappeared."

Students and journalists fought to block renovation of the area dominated by the town hall and flanked by more than 40 other buildings with fountains at each corner of the square.

Monks, craftsmen and jewelers frequented the square from the Middle Ages, with architectural styles ranging from the 13th to the 18th century.

Officials in the city of 850,000 defend the project.

"Not a single modern stone was used. Everything is from the appropriate era and done well. And people like it," said Vasyl Myskiv, head of the town council's construction department.

"We did the archaeological research and changed the entire infrastructure. That meant new gas and water pipes and tram lines and renewing fountains, street lamps and cobblestones."

Work crews ignored the protests and raced to complete plans for the festivities this month, when 150,000 guests -- including the presidents of Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania -- poured into Lviv for concerts, exhibitions and lavish receptions.


The city, the heartland of Ukrainian national sentiment, is a vibrant example of the changes that swept over central Europe, often shifting national borders eastwards or westwards.

Lviv's twisting alleys, gothic and baroque buildings and sumptuous cafes resemble Vienna for a good reason -- as Lemberg it was an eastern outpost of Austria-Hungary until the empire's demise in 1918.

The influence of Poland -- which took over Lwow in 1918 -- is everywhere, with Catholic shrines, cemeteries and monuments alongside Orthodox and Armenian churches, and synagogues.

Suburban tower blocks are signs of the Soviet legacy from 1939 when the Kremlin grabbed back Lvov and western Ukraine as part of the Nazi-Soviet deal carving up eastern Europe.

Critics of the renovation say it was rushed and botched.

"Everything was done in a hurry. What was clear only to specialists at the start is now clear to everybody," said Oleg Matsekh, a cultural activist who spearheaded protests.

"We see cobbled streets coated with concrete. We see the installation of modern lamps on period houses. We see electric cables running over fountains. You can't call this renovation."

The city said the parlous state of facilities after countless years of neglect left it little choice and the hope is that tourist revenues can generate revenue for further renovation.

"Nobody did anything for over 100 years. Water pipes are very old. Electric cables were unchanged for 100 years. The reconstruction was vital," says Myskiv.

"Cobblestones could perhaps have lasted a few more years, but the sewer system was ruining the foundations of old buildings. We have accomplished a big job."

New projects to halt further decay are in the planning stages.

Renaissance palazzos and other buildings in Vienna's early 20th century Secession style are crumbling. Gothic cellars are submerged. Medieval wooden water pipes are in ruins. Frescoes are faded or hidden under fresh paint. Roofs have open cracks.

"Anywhere you go in the city center things are old -- old streets, old buildings," Myskiv said.

"As of now, more than 1,000 buildings are crying out for renovation. We cannot stop now if we want to hang on to them."

Source: Reuters


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the news. It seems only natural for people to resist change in an architectural city like Lviv.

As for Lviv 750 anniversary, below is a link to the video about it: