Mixing East and West in Ukraine

For MT
The voice of the priest, amplified by a microphone, charged out the heavy, open doors of the Dominican Church, over the crowded heads of the faithful and echoed down the empty street all the way to the statue of Taras Shevchenko in the park on Prospekt Svabody.

It's late April in Lvov, in the heart of western Ukraine, and members of both local Orthodox and Greek Catholic congregations were celebrating Palm Sunday, more than four weeks after those Christians in Rome.

But a heresy was not brewing. Instead, the rites being carried out in this town of nearly a million were a result of a 400-year-old compromise aimed at ending more than two centuries of bloodshed between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. The Greek Catholic Church, whose members are sometimes known as Uniates, was established in 1596. It acknowledges the spiritual supremacy of the pope, but uses the Orthodox rites and calendar.

The agreement brought peace between the Orthodox Ukrainians and the Catholic Polish of the historically war-torn region of Galicia, a part of modern Ukraine that shares a border with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

In fact, the city of Lvov was founded as a result of the conflicts between these peoples, as a means of controlling both of the well-traveled trade routes that crisscross the Carpathian Mountains.

Although people had been living in the area around Lvov since the fifth century, the modern history of the city began with the construction of a fortress on a steep hill northeast of the earlier settlement by Danylo Halystsky in the mid-13th century. A prince of Galicia and Volyn, which was once a part of Kievan Rus, legend has it that he named the city after his son Lev, or lion.

The hill, which is now called Vysoky Zamo (High Hill), is a regular tourist destination reached by hiking up a heavily potholed road and dozens and dozens of metal steps.

At the top, no battlements or arrow slits await visitors, just remnants of a brick wall and a winding ramp up a three-story pile of stones. At the top, a woman sells suckers and rents out red-glazed binoculars for 50 kopiykas. Near her, a neatly dressed middle-aged man sits next to a sign advertising palm readings as he talks to himself and reads over figures in a notebook.

For those who make the effort to get around the teenagers drinking champagne, smoking cigarettes and listening to Russian pop blasting from their mobile phones, the view is marvelous.

In one direction, the city slips away into the countryside. Past the city limits, "fields of purple poppies flower, noonday wind is playing in the yellowing rye, the virginal buckwheat rises on the horizon like the wall of a distant monastery," at least according to Isaac Babel, who described the Galician countryside in his short story "Crossing the Zbrucz."

In the opposite direction, the foothills of the humpy, sharp and well-tended Carpathians begin to rise.

John Wendle / MT
An overflow crowd of Greek Catholics worshipped at the Dominican Church and Monastery in Lvov on Palm Sunday.
On one side of the hill, blocks of orderly Soviet housing encircle the train station. On the other side, a mix of architectural styles spreads out from the old city's Ploshcha Rynok to the town hall, the Ivan Franko Opera and Ballet Theater, the outdoor arts and crafts market, the Dominican Church and Monastery and Museum of Historic Religions, the Taras Shevchenko statue, the Armenian Cathedral, the Transfiguration, Uspensky and Jesuit churches and a handful of McDonald's restaurants. Two days in Lvov is enough to see many of these landmarks.

Even with three universities and several wide-open squares, Lvov does not feel like a university town. There are some good restaurants and bars though, and the squares are filled constantly -- at some times of the day with old men and at others with students.

Along Vulitsya Ruska, one of the city's main streets, there are a handful of interesting bars, including one that features an old man in a blue camouflage uniform guarding a door with a submachine gun. The entrance to this bar, and another similar one next door -- this time with no armed guard -- is through an archway leading to a courtyard across the street from the Uspensky Church.

Another bar, Kvitka, at 14 Vulitsya Ruska, is little more than a front room, but it has an Old World flavor. It seems like the kind of place small-time revolutionaries and bookkeepers might have met 100 years ago.

Further down Vulitsya Ruska, across from the Roman Catholic cathedral is the Akropolis Greek restaurant run by the shaggy, gregarious Afanasios Iliopulos. Ask him for souvlaki, or the chicken kebabs. He does not speak any Russian, but his Greek is superb and his English passable. He'll ply you with Ouzo and charm the ladies.

Other bars and restaurants abound, some dating back 300 years, but these have to be sniffed out down moldy backstreets with no names -- just part of the fun of exploring Lvov.

Both Market Square and the park along Prospekt Svabody are great places for people watching. On the southern end of Prospekt Svabody, stands a statue of the Virgin Mary crowned with a halo of golden stars. Here, day and night, passers-by, both young and old, stop for a few minutes to pray.

Where to Stay

Hotel Eney2 Shimseriv St. www.eney.lviv.ua eney-reservation@mail.lviv.ua Tel: +38 (032) 276 8799 Tel: +38 (032) 296 5031

Retro Hostel Shevchenko 16 Prospekt Shevchenko Tel: +38 (032) 240 3761 Fax: +38 (032) 240 3761 info@hihostels.com.ua

Getting There and Away

Many trains run daily from Kiev. The trip takes around 12 hours, so it is best to do it overnight.

From the train station take the No. 1 or 9 trolley four or five stops to get to the center.

Lvov has an international airport, and while there are no direct flights from Moscow, it is possible to connect through Kiev or several other regional capitals. Ukrainian national airline Aerosvit flies from Moscow to Lvov with a stopover in Kiev for slightly less than $600.