Lviv, Western Ukraine - Borscht with Guns & Masochism
Updated: May 7
Kryjivka - 'shelter' in Ukrainian - & founder Yurko Nazaruk - still seem to be going strong
Photo: Kryjivka, April 2009. From left to right: guardsman Mykola Panchenko, with a Soviet-made PPS (a Soviet copy of a Finnish sub-machine gun), Yurko Nazaruk and Rudi Hermann, then Prague correspondent for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Last night, trawling through the remains of long-expired hard drives on my current laptop, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of articles from the 2000s, many of which I'd totally forgotten about. One of the best (in my humble opinion) was written following my one and only visit to Lviv, in western Ukraine, in 2009. This appeared in Business Hungary, the then monthly magazine issued by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary.
The find prompted a search of boxes containing old publications - but alas, I could only find one copy from 2009, and it did not contain this story, so what follows (in a bit) is the original draft I sent of the piece.
But first, a little backstory to it all.
Sometime in March 2009, I received an email from the Kyiv-based arm of a global PR company inviting me on a press trip to the west Ukrainian city of Lviv. Lviv, along with several other cities in Ukraine, was preparing to co-host (with Poland) the UEFA 2012 European Nations' soccer tournament.
Well, it sounded a nice jolly, and I'd never been to Lviv, but I had plenty on my plate, and I didn't know where I might sell the story. If Iryna (the PR Agency's representative behind the email) thought I could get it into the Financial Times, she had better think again, because a) I coudn't barge into a colleague's country and take one of his stories and b) FT hacks are not allowed to partake of such freebies for fear of favouritism.
In any case, it all sounded something of a rushed, last minute job, as the visit dates were just two weeks away. So I wrote a polite email to Iryna declining the invitation, with an explaination why I wouldn't be much use to her cause.
Iryna, however, was not to be put off, and the long and the short of it all was that fortnight later I was sharing a flight with Rudi of the NZZ (pictured above) to find out what Lviv was all about.
There next follows my original submission to Business Hungary, where a sub-editor Americanised it and got upset with some of my spelling 'mistakes' - though how I was supposed to know that the Mayor of Lviv spelled his name one way on his card and another way on the City's website, I don't know.
It may be a story now 14 years old, but it illustrates why Vladimir Putin should not have launched his disastrous invasion of Ukraine (but in case you are in a hurry, the best bit is the sidebar at the end).
Business Hungary entitled the story:
Revamping Lviv - City prepares to host Euro soccer championship
INTRO par; Lviv, in western Ukraine, sees itself very much a European city. With a historical inner quarter on the Unesco World Heritage list, a population of 850,000, a host of university and educational establishments and a location just 60km from the Polish border, Lviv believes it is well placed to attract inward investment, tourists and to co-host the 2012 European nations’ football championship. But despite these attributes, along with a palpable mood of cautious optimism, even city officials admit Lviv faces daunting challenges ahead.
MAIN On the approach to Lviv airport from the south – if the sun is shining - passengers can spot the gleaming, golden roof of a restored orthodox church. A kilometre or so beyond is the site of a somewhat larger, more modern temple – the sprawling earthworks and foundations for the city’s new, 30,000-seat soccer stadium being built to host matches in Euro 2012, the European nations’ football competition. At least, that is the hope. Minutes later, on the tarmac, the visitor is greeted by the airport terminal, a carefully-maintained, classical building adorned with Socialist-realist statues. Inside there are no departure boards, no tannoy announcements, nor even fancy buffets offering coffee and snacks at airport prices. It is, as one web critique wrote; “pretty basic, but it works.” At least for now, handling, as it does, a handful of flights each day. Outside, the problems become more readily apparent, as the taxi – with three lengthy cracks and a sizeable chip in the windscreen – navigates the potholed road and the erratic traffic flow into the city. On either side of the 6km drive, the vistas comprise a hotchpotch of mix of residential, commercial and industrial sites – some well-tended, others decrepit; there is not much in between. Much of this, or at least the rougher parts, is set to change, Andriy Sadovvy, Mayor of Lviv, insists. “Before 1940 Lviv was an attractive, once Austro-Hungarian city, but 50 years of Soviet occupation destroyed much, even the soul,” he says in English, emphasising the term ‘occupation’. But “step by step” the council is working to rebuild both the city and its society. “We don’t have any oligarchs here. Western Ukraine has a democratic tradition, a different mentality [to the east]. In my opinion Lviv is the only city that can be the driver [for the social renewal] of Ukraine,” he says. The football championships are an important, but not critical, driver in Lviv’s development plans, council officials stress in a media presentation. “Even before ‘Euro 2012’ we were thinking about how many hotels were needed. Both scenarios [with or without the championship] supported the creation of over 1,500 new rooms,” says Ivan Loun, the council’s adviser on hotel development. Nonetheless, to host even three group games, the city has its work cut out. UEFA, the football authority, alone demands 2,335 five and four star hotel rooms for players and officials; the city claims it can already fulfil 70% of these needs, and has contracts in place that will more than fulfil demand. But UEFA does not insist on any specific number or quality of hotel rooms for fans, many of whom are expected to lodge in surrounding towns, notably the spa resort of Truskavec, 90 km to the southwest. Then there’s the infrastructure; the airport, currently undergoing a runway extension, is due a new EUR 85m terminal designed to boost capacity from the current 250 to 1,800 passengers per hour. The city insists massive road, bus and tram renovation projects along with new-build schemes will provide fans and ordinary citizens alike with good transport connections. And the city’s aspirations are not just pie in the sky, according to the Monitor Group, a US-based global consultancy whose recent study has identified tourism and business services as key areas for development. “There’s no doubt that Lviv is rich in human resource potential, has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and has already attracted numerous international investment projects,” says Miron Derchansky, project manager in Ukraine for Monitor. Yet, as his group’s report admits, despite the pros, “several underlying issues” make some formidable cons – including corruption, “non-transparent tax procedures”, and lack of both long-term planning and adequate infrastructure. In truth, such is the centralised structure of government in Ukraine, the city has neither the power nor resources to solve many of these issues alone. As a result, as even the mayor himself admits, “You can drink the water, but I wouldn’t.” But whatever the hurdles facing Lviv, Lars Vestbjerg, a Danish footwear maker who first came to the city in 2003, insists things are progressing. “When I first came it took two years to get the necessary permits [to set up a plant] because I would not pay [bribes]. Now it can be done [cleanly]. And people speak English, that was a rarity back then,” he says. SIDEBAR Yurko Nazaruk boasts he has brought Lviv to the world. “They’ve written about our restaurants in Europe, in Russia, in America, even in Mozambique. Do you think the name of Lviv has ever been mentioned before in Mozambique?” he asks with eyebrows raised. Nazaruk, a graduate in international relations and still only 28, opened his first restaurant just 18 months ago. ‘Kryjivka’ – or ‘Shelter’ – lies behind an unmarked door on Lviv’s central square. Designed to pay homage to the UPA, Ukrainian partisans who fought both the Wehrmacht and Red Army for independence from 1942-1950, access is granted only by shouting the password – Slava Ukraini! – Glory to Ukraine! – to a uniformed doorman toting an authentic 1940’s Soviet sub-machine gun. “I bought the guns; I have the certificates to say they are safe,” says Nazaruk. Downstairs business is thriving amidst a heady mixture of more weaponry, partisan songs, uniformed waitresses, fading photos and military paraphernalia. “This project is not just a restaurant; it’s an education [center]. The UPA fought for their country, but we could never talk about them until after independence. Even now the government does not recognise them. People only know the Russian propaganda; they don’t know about the real partisans,” he says. Kryjivka has proved a hit from day one, with 650,000 customers in its first year of existence, a European record, Nazaruk claims. And despite its historical anti-Moscow theme, Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians are made welcome and enjoy the experience, he insists. “We welcome Russians. They sit with Poles and sing together. Poor people come from the villages, bringing their own bread. We’ve had many ministers too, and the wife of the president with her children, but not Julia [Timoshenko, Ukraine’s prime minister].” In rapid-fire procession, Nazaruk’s team have since opened nine other uniquely-themed restaurants in town, including one dedicated to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the supposed father of masochism). “You know Masoch, who was born in Lviv, was an educated writer, not a masochist at all, it’s a myth,” Nazaruk reveals. Nonetheless, his café presents local guests with the “ultimate pain” – a continuous broadcast of parliamentary proceedings from Kyiv.
“People offer to pay us to stop it, but we say no, this is what you are here for, genuine masochism!” he says. ENDS POSTSCRIPT
After finding this story, I sent an email to Yurko to see if he and his restaurants are still in business. So far, he has not replied, but judging from this story from last year, he is very much alive and doing his patriotic bit for his war-torn homeland.
This is the restaurant's website if you are ever in town.
And I'm still in touch with Iryna (she sometimes reads this blog). and yes, she later admitted, the Lviv job had been one last-minute desperate effort to get some journalists, almost any journalists, to the city.
Iryna has since started her own company to market her artwork, which focuses on the sky.
Of course, Lviv can have its down side, as experienced by Alan Sutton and son two years ago.
OK, that's all for now - only to say that you can still enter KesterTester98 and 99 and win fabulous prizes :). (I'll try to post the winner of KT98 tomorrow).
Meanwhile, have a great weekend - and (though I'm not keen on citing slogans) - Slava Ukraini!