Christmas in Lviv

January 25, 2023
January 25, 2023

During the strongest modern transformation of our society and the return of the correct date of Christmas, the Mistograf team has recorded the transformations of the urban space in the cultural capital of Ukraine — Lviv, the city of Lion.

I. The Spirit

One of the cities where, before the war, Ukrainians went to experience Christmas in a European way, is the city of Lion. Why? Because this tourist town delighted visitors with bright nativity scenes, traditional dishes, carols and beautiful clothes.

Before the war, traditions were manifested in central streets and fairs, in restaurants, galleries and shops, in theaters, clubs and during sightseeing tours. Tanya knows this for sure, because she came to Lviv with her family and friends to celebrate Christmas as a student for more than one year. And it was not just a demonstration. These are living traditions among real people.

It is hard for us now to realize that among our friends in the East, only ethnographer friends are aware of the celebration of Christmas. The rest are hints, superficial knowledge; they are either lost for some reason, or they are not used.

The goal of the Mistograf expedition to Lviv was to find and at least briefly feel the spirit of Christmas in this difficult year for all Ukrainians.

Yes, we are at war, but that doesn't mean we don't celebrate. It is because of our shared uncertainty about the next day that we want to gather in the family circle, visit and sing carols together. Ukraine is culture, religion, tradition. And repeating Christmas rituals, it's as if you're connecting to something big. This is what soldiers say at the frontier: "We protect the country so that the country goes on. Not to sit in fears, but celebrating and help bringing the victory closer."

II. The outskirts

What can be done to interest people who live in Lviv, and in fact — at the Motozavod disctrict?

If old friends live in the city, then the choice for freight forwarders will obviously stop at them. Communication with the locals often gives interesting discoveries. In our case, we learned about the area and the district, and also that our friends are almost never in the center, but on the contrary, bypass it whenever possible.

Passing through a part of the Railway district, which has the characteristic name Motozavod (from the local anchor company Motor Plant), we never once felt ourselves in Lviv. Perhaps this happened because cities have their own triggers, associations, and if they are not there, then the feeling of the city disappears. This is a peculiar pattern of perception, especially characteristic of children, when we feel the automatic joy of recognition: "Oh, we heard/saw about it!", "Look, it looks different in nature than in the photo."

The planning of the Motozavod district took place in the post-war Soviet times and corresponds to the typology of neighborhood buildings in the times of sharp urbanization and overgrowth of the city by an industrial zone. There are wide, level avenues, five- to nine-story buildings, large supermarkets, and modern churches. A railway branch passes through the district. If you go inside the quarters, you can see individual private estates, and sometimes even whole alleys of private modern and old Polish-Austrian buildings.

We heard many scary stories about Roma gangs, drug addicts and thieves, so it was unpleasant for us to walk alone in the evening. Taxi drivers refused to turn through the dark streets because of the poor quality of the road surface. Once, right in front of our house, the police arrested a taxi driver whom we called on suspicion of stealing a car. And surprisingly, new townhouses are being built around the corner, and a restored library with a cheerful mural shines at the intersection of Horodotska Street.

So, we made a colorful conclusion about the Lviv resident who lives at Motozavod: your life is in danger; you walk the dogs in the overgrown "Fifth Park" behind the railway; you go to take drinking water from a spring outside the city; you have nothing to do in the city center, except to buy tea and coffee; you have old proven places for relaxing with friends.

But here we found a separate art form that characterizes the area — blacksmithing and forged fences. And there should be a lock on the fence.

III. The logistics

Every day we drew up an approximate route, but did not try to follow it clearly — we turned where we saw something more interesting. It is easy to navigate in Lviv, walking randomly from top to bottom, the streets lead to the center. In this expedition, we decided to use the Odessa experience: we draw up routes every day after the fact, orienting ourselves on Google Maps, we note the things we met, the names we remembered and our travel thoughts. This happens because our days are loaded in very different directions. There are some predefined destination points, and there are branches of the main routes, because we received additional information for observation.

We are not fans of excursions, so we walk on our own, and then look for information about what seemed strange. This is how it turns out to be more complete: first form your opinion, see, feel, draw, and then compare it with a story or a story.

Because of this, we have something to write in our field diaries — we sometimes feel like pioneers, archivists of everyday life. There are many Lviv residents among our subscribers, so it will be interesting to compare with their vision of "daily discoveries" on usual daily routes!

IV. The noise

Martial law in the country, horror in the news, constant shelling of our cities — despite all this, Lviv is holding on as best it can. We see that people have learned to work without light and under stress. Regardless of whether the area has electricity or not, restaurants are cooking delicious food and shops are letting customers go. And all this is possible thanks to generators. One of the critically important new formations that appeared en masse on the streets.

Generators are now a necessity. There were so many of them that there was a need to think about special places, because now they are displayed without any understanding: someone puts them in the pedestrian zone, blocking an already narrow passage; someone takes them away to the road, to the parking lot; someone hides in a container close to the windows, ignoring the exhaust. Electricity supply wires run directly across the street or rise above people's heads.

Generators make a lot of noise. Even on Svobody Avenue, which is already noisy from the heavy traffic on the cobblestones, when the lights in the central district were scheduled to go out, we heard that the monotonous hum of dozens of generators was added. Their necessary appearance puts an important puzzle piece in the quality picture of our Ukrainian existence.

V. The quietness

In beautiful weather on the last day of the Mistograf expedition, we went to the Lychakiv cemetery. Mechnikov Street and the adjacent streets leading to the central entrance to the cemetery had a 10/10 appearance. Updated road surface with separation and markings, replaced cobblestones, raised pedestrian zone above the lawn, bicycle interchanges, bollards from insolent parkers, small car pockets, lack of high curb stone and ramps.

The map bought at the cash desk says that the Lychakiv Necropolis is 237 years old. From the very beginning, the wealthiest Galicians of various nationalities were buried here. Indeed, tombstones sometimes seem to compete with each other — they differ in style, decorations, architecture and design. The white crypt with stained glass windows stands open, empty inside and no hint of death. You can read whole family obituaries from different eras. A private tour in Polish is held near Frank's grave. Walking here is interesting, as if in a museum. Its internal urbanism, planning, places for rest and places of mourning are followed in the placement. The semicircular square at the entrance branches off in different directions with alleys between crypts, chapels, sculptures and crosses. This is definitely not an ordinary burial place behind a concrete fence. On the contrary, it seems that the necropolis raises the status of the entire district.

We wandered through different parts of the cemetery along paths made of red tiles, then down, then up. Trees are entwined with ivy, stone sculptures of angels are overgrown with moss, old metal lanterns, the rays of the sun shine through the colored glass of the chapels and a pleasant even silence sets in...

This silence is suddenly broken by loud synchronized shots. Our soldiers are being buried in the part of the cemetery called Field of Mars. The orchestra plays calm music, the crowd carries several coffins under blue-yellow and red-black flags. We fix frozen figures here and there — passers-by stopped to silently say goodbye to the heroes. And the hum of air alarm spills over all of us. This causes strange experiences: there are many closed underground vaults around, where you cannot hide.

VI. Afterword

There is no festive mood, although there are all the Christmas paraphernalia: a Christmas tree with Nicholas near the drama theater, discounts in shops, tourists on the streets, excursions to the Shevchenkivskyi Gai museum of everyday life. There are decorations in shop windows, grandfathers in markets, nativity scenes in churches. There are also modern inseparable patches: on the Christmas tree instead of a star there is an anti-tank hedgehog, the roar of generators near restaurants is sometimes combined with the wail of air-raid sirens, and near the church nativity scene there is a donation box "for a thermal imager for our boys in Bakhmut".

This year's Christmas, some of our acquaintances (like for the first time in our lives, we ourselves) celebrated twice: on December 24 and January 6. Lviv knows how to entertain well with nativity scenes, pours and good food. And yet, a cozy home atmosphere is needed for a family holiday evening. Our Christmas Eve on December 24 in Lviv is an evening without light. We spent the whole day walking around Lviv with the expedition, then noting the collected material, so we didn't even prepare dinner. But the family, where we were staying, treated us to festive traditional "pampukhs" (fried donuts) with roses and halva. They told us what kind of table have their parental families: the first time we heard about "almonds" - cabbage rolls with mashed potatoes inside...

We left post-Christmas Lviv under the cannonade of the Air Defense Forces.

Returning to the village, which we are used to call home after a year of resettlement, we prepared our twelve Christmas dishes, not forgetting "kutya" porridge and stollen bread. Then we cleaned our house, our yard and ourselves, put straw-grandpa on the table and, having read a prayer, sat down to dinner as a family. In the morning, the cheerful young Nativity visited the house, which this year handed all collected treats for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. At dusk, another one Nativity came, this time arranged from the adult villagers. We visited the neighbors for evening party, we had fun and cry, singing local old carols about the Holy family, new Salvation, Ukraine, the military past, the modern war...

This is how our double Christmas 2022 took place.

Text authors: Mistograf / Illustrations: Yaroslav Yakovlev / 2023

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