Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Back in the UkSSR

I paid five lei (90p) for a shared taxi from Sapanta to Sighet, a distance of eight or nine miles and there met Kevin who had driven up from Bucharest. We crossed the Ukrainian border in half an hour.

Ukraine is enchanting, like Romania in the Nineties before things were spoilt. The Northern Maramures and the Ukrainian  Carpathians are as beautiful as anywhere I've ever been, included Bosnia, Switzerland or Transylvania. 

We started over the border and in a moment were in Solotvino, the birthplace of Robert Maxwell, the bouncing Czech, who in fact came from here - Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, which was in Czechoslovakia after being in Hungary and before being taken by the USSR.

Our second stop was Dilove, the centre of Europe, at least according to the Austrian imperial government. I remember when John Major became Prime Minister of England and said he wanted Britain to be at the heart of Europe Charles Moore pointed out that the centre of Europe was in fact some miles south-east of Vilnius. However there appears to be more than one suitor for this honour. I hope this one is the real one, outside the EU and in a neglected and forgotten country.

Statues of Bandera, a very interesting tragic figure of whom I want to know more, are seen in small towns along our way. People do not know about the war the Ukrainians fought against the Communists and the Poles during and for many years after the second world war. This war fought by Galicians often in conjunction with the Germans is what creates the hatred for Nazis and fascists in eastern Ukraine and which Vladimir Putin is trying, with only partial success, to exploit. We visited the charming house where Bandera grew up, son of a village priest, and the adjacent, uninteresting museum.

Like Romania, Ukraine does not have motorways, or not here, and so the journey is enjoyable and we see the country unfold. A poor country but a very good one.

Ivano Frankivsk was the town where we stopped for the first night. A pretty and very relaxing place, with the deep peace of a provincial town in a poor country. The buildings in the centre are Austrian and belle epoque and it is clear that the disappearance of the Austrian Hungarian Empire was a tragedy for everyone, even the beneficiaries. The reason the empire ceased to exist was Woodrow Wilson and his Fourteen Points, the triumph of Gladstonian liberalism. 

Wilson's direct descendants are the American cold warriors and George W. Bush. Wilsonianism is what helped overthrow the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Viktor Yanukovitch and now has landed us in the crisis we are in with Vladimir Putin. On this I cannot make up my mind. The Americans and the EU handled things stupidly because they are liberals and yet why should the Ukrainians not have the freedom and prosperity of Poland?

I love Ukraine where people seem like normal human beings, not clones and companymen. Communism is in many ways oddly less corrupting than the ideology we have in the West. Of course Ivano Frankivsk is very Western, another lovely Hapsburg city built in the first age of globalisation. I pray the Russian invaders leave Ukraine but it seems Ukraine wins even if she loses, for she would lose her backward Russified provinces. In fact Russia will surely not annex those provinces because that would throw Ukraine forever into the arms of the Americans. But even without making this mistake, I think Russia will certainly lose.

I eat blinis nonstop but they don't call them blinis for geopolitical reasons.

We stay at the George in Lvov/Lviv/Lemburg. I like to find the oldest hotel in a city, the one that's a landmark, and hope it's mildly run to seed, shabby genteel. This one is exactly that, like the Londonskaya in Odessa or the Pera Palace in Constantinople before it was renovated and thereby ruined.

We have three nights in Lviv and plenty of time but we don't see nearly all that there is to be seen - the city has about sixty old churches and i think I saw fewer than ten.

I am enthralled by Lvov though it is almost too touristy, almost on the cusp. The Lonely Planet guide I carry with me printed in 2005 says it is is like Prague was before it was renovated and overran but since 2005 much has changed and tourism has increased by 40% since 2010. I imagine though that is fell back this summer. Now it feels like Cracow in the mid 1990s, somewhat touristy but yet retaining some innocence. 

It feels in places like the Austrian city it was in the 19th century. In other places it feels Italian, truly the Florence of the East that is its nickname. Sometimes it seems the Polish city it also was. 

Two restaurants were recommended to us. One is Kryjivka, a restaurant that would horrify Russians as it is a homage to the partisans who fought the Red Army and sometimes the Germans and Poles in the Second World War. It is underground and you have to know a password before you are allowed to enter. It is fun and full of pictures of Bandera. The food is fine.

Kryjivka is a different restaurant, by the way, from this one, which was accused of anti-Semitism.

Kryjivka: underground resistance Banderist restaurant where we ate. They don't let you in unless you know the password which our hotel gave us.
The other restaurant we were recommended was House of Fairy Tales, where each floor of a four room house has the theme of a fairy tale. This seems to be very Ukrainian in its tweeness. I thought it looked enormous fun but my friend Kevin refused to eat there. He said the dwarves put him off. He felt they were being exploited. I find the Ukrainian sense of humour and fantasy delightful.

We went to the prison this morning where the NKVD murdered thousands of people before the Gestapo revealed the NKVD murders and then used it for their own political prisoners and murders. then it became NKVD and KGB again. A very searing experience. This was the organisation that Vladimir Putin wanted to join from early boyhood and which is now running Russia. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is now admired by people who should know better as a social conservative and Christian gentleman.

KGB Gestapo NKVD prison in Lvov where so many died.

St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, handed back by the Orthodox

1 comment:

  1. In the landmark work on the subject , Genocide Committed by Ukrainian Nationalists on the Polish Population During World War II, Ryszard Szawlowski

    According to Szawlowski’s description of the methods the Banderites employed against the Poles at Volhynia, treachery was the most frequently used. The Banderites told the Poles they were one people and family with them and that it would be treason if they left. The Bandera groups even promised to protect them–in writing!

    What else separates the Banderas from every other genocidal perpetrator of the war is this: Even though the German SS had units dedicated to genocide, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) approached this mission with a zeal and barbarity that Hitler’s own units could not muster. They routinely tortured people with saws and axes, and used the most painful methods they could devise as means to kill them.

    The Bandera would attack using “self defense groups” that were locally organized. These civilian Banderas were the main force used to attack and slaughter the Poles. If any of the massacre victims managed to survive, they were torched, robbed, and killed by follow-up groups of women and children.

    Szawlowski’s work on the genocide committed by Ukrainian nationalists during World War II is brought up to date by the recent observations of Ukrainian Wiktor Poliszczuk.

    “… he condemns the dangerous activities of the post-UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army] nationalists in present-day Ukraine, taking place not only in Lvov, but even in Kiev, ‘Galician Fundamentalism,’ and other such phenomena. Also criticized by him are the promoting of the totalitarian and genocidal doctrines of the Ukrainian Dmytro Dontsov, the erecting of monuments to the SS-men of the 14th Ukrainian SS Division “Galizien” (“Halychyna”), the OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists] and UPA leaders: Yevhen Konovalets, Andryi Melnyk, Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych and others, and the glorifying of the murderers of Poles, Jews, Russians and Ukrainians as national heroes of the Ukraine, after whom streets and squares are named, awaking the spirit of the Dontsov and Bandera era, so much hated by people.”