Lviv, First Day

I’ve been in Lviv for one day and I’m already in love with it and with Ukraine.

My host, Ed and his wife, Natasha, took me on a two hour walking tour of Lviv today to get me acquainted with the area and the major sites. Edward is much like my Krakow host, Aleksander, knowledgeable about Ukraine, its history, its people, and its geopolitics.

As we walked, Ed pointed out churches, statues and parks. And I found myself swept away by the architecture and the fascinating history behind not only Lviv, but Ukraine. Somehow, actually being here makes this information resonate more within me.

It’s funny. For decades I was so involved with the Italian side of my family that I never really much considered my biological mother’s side. Living in Europe has allowed me the luxury of pursuing this part of my background. Now that I’ve been to Poland and now that I’m in Ukraine, I’m feeling very proud.

The more I hear about the struggles of the Polish and Ukrainian people, the more proud I become. The more I hear about the history, the more I want to learn. There is a richness here that is rarely mentioned in the schools–unless ones majors in eastern European studies.

And along with all this knowledge is the opportunity to experience firsthand people’s beliefs, views and fears about what could possibly happen with Russia and the economy. It’s so much more interesting than anything I’ve read in the papers.

And I’ve been fascinated by the atmosphere here. I like to consider myself to be a relatively informed, aware person but I kept apologizing to my host, Ed, as he showed me around, for my ignorance about life in Ukraine. In re-evaluating my impressions, I had to admit to myself that I expected something different in Lviv.

Because of the destruction and death in Lohansk and Donetsk, because of the bombings in Kharkiv and Mariupol, I had automatically made some very wrong assumptions. I know that the Ukrainian currency, the hyrvnia, has been the worst-performing currency on the planet for the past year because of Russia’s insurgency. The economy has tanked. Corruption is rampant.

I guess I assumed everyone would be in Soviet mold–quietly and unobtrusively shuffling through the streets, afraid to talk lest the KGB take them away. Dressed in shabby, Russian-made clothes. Empty restaurants. Bland architecture. A monotonous atmosphere. I expected rampant poverty.

Instead, I found a lively, vibrant city with magnificent architecture and streets crammed with cars. I saw affluence with stylishly dressed residents strolling down the sidewalks and packing the cafes. I saw a lifestyle similar to what I know in the States.

Like I’ve always said, I tend to dramatize everything and I foolishly thought that Lviv would be a city of frightened, depressed citizens scraping by in nondescript apartment buildings. It’s not. It’s alive. It’s happening. People are aware of what’s happening in eastern Ukraine and they are keeping a wary eye. But the population is educated and sophisticated. The people are friendly and open. There are jobs. There are growing companies. A chocolate factory. IT groups. A yeast(!) company.

Ed explained to me that my misperceptions were not necessarily wrong. Just misplaced. I only had the information I had read. Even though I read analysis of world events, the fact is that all the information I have been reading has been bad–oligarchs, bombings, sanctions, corruption. He said that it is normal to paint a bleak picture. Still, I should have known better.

The nation doesn’t seem to be falling apart at the seams. Not from what I saw anyway. I hear the rural areas are different. I’m sure there is grinding poverty and suffering. I’m fortunate in that I will experience the urban and rural lifestyles for a true snapshot.

It is fascinating to be someplace that is on the world stage where fighting is going on and a nation is teetering. Yet, despite that, real life still goes on. Not because people are apathetic but because it has to. What we read and hear doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s always more to know. We just have to dig a bit deeper.

And the more I learn, the more I want to know. Next week I’ll be visiting the villages where my ancestors lived. And I can get a feel, despite the comfort of being a “wealthy” American, of what it might have been like for them as they were torn and abused constantly and systematically by repugnant overseers.

Life, so fascinating. So rich. So gripping.

 

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