L’viv, Ukrainian History, Paradoxes and Muddles

L’viv, Ukrainian History, Paradoxes and Muddles

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king?



I have long had a special interest in western Ukraine in general and in the city of L’viv[1] in particular.  My parents grew up in Kolomiya, a mid-sized city in Galicia some 200 kilometers south, south-east from L’viv.  They later lived in L’viv between 1937 and 1944 where my father, a musicologist and composer, taught at the conservatory and was active in that city’s cultural and intellectual life.  Many other relatives lived in L’viv for a shorter or longer period of time, and a few relatives still live there today.

My own first visit to L’viv was in 1989 at the tail end of the Soviet era, and I have since then visited it on innumerable occasions, including during the two periods when I lived and worked in Ukraine.  I thus approached the newest book about L’viv, one authored by Tarik Cyril Amar, an associate professor of history at Columbia, titled The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv—A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists,[2] with considerable interest, anticipation and enthusiasm.

Surprisingly, and for reasons that deserve close attention, Paradox turned out to be unusually uneven.  Certain segments consisting of entire chapters are informative and insightful.  But when considered as a whole, the book’s shortcomings are found to outweigh its virtues.  This may be because the author’s inadequate familiarity with Ukrainian history leads not only to an important misconception with which Amar concludes his study, but also because of the book’s related problems with confusion and thematic coherence.  But before unpacking the book’s shortcomings, its undeniable virtues deserve attention first.

Soviet and Jewish History

As a contribution to Soviet history and studies, Amar’s Paradox represents a valuable addition.  The best part of the book consists of the two chapters, from among a total of eight, devoted to the Sovietization and industrialization of L’viv.  Chapter 4, “After Lemberg:  The End of the End of Lwo’w and the making of Lviv,” and chapter 5, “The Founding of Industrial Lviv: Factories and Identities,” focus mainly on life in L’viv in the first decade after Word War II.  This is material that brings to light a good amount of detailed information about aspects of L’viv’s history that are not as well known or researched, at least not in the literature that is available in English.  The description of the Soviet expulsion of L’viv’s Polish inhabitants and of the violent and, because Sovietization was a totalitarian[3] campaign, multi-faceted transformation that was imposed from above on the remaining as well as the newly arrived populations of L’viv and its surrounding western Ukrainian countryside represents a welcome and positive contribution to the developing scholarship on this city.

Another subject to which Prof. Amar makes a contribution is Jewish and Holocaust history in Ukraine.  To be sure, the breadth and depth of Holocaust history is now rich almost beyond imagination, but Amar’s description of the removal and destruction of L’viv’s large Jewish population—to be found in chapter 3 titled “The Lemberg of Nazism:  German Occupation, 1941-1944”—from the perspective of the victimized Jews is certainly a worthwhile addition to that vast literature.  But even this part of the book raises some questions about the book’s overall thematic coherence, a subject addressed more fully below.   If the book is about what produced L’viv’s transformation, the basic fact of the removal of the Jewish (and subsequently Polish) segments of the city’s population is, of course, fundamental to the story.  But it is less obvious how this section, when and as properly taken as a contribution to Holocaust history, fits into Amar’s process-of- transformation-in-L’viv narrative, whereas if, for example, Amar had followed the approach of another recent book about L’viv, Christoph Mick’s excellent Lemberg, Lwo’w, L’viv, 1914-1947,[4] a book that provides an ongoing history of the same events as they were experienced and viewed from three different perspectives, i.e., Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian, it would fit in more naturally and sensibly.

Yet another chapter that is informative but seems to stand as a separate piece of scholarship whose relationship to the topic (or topics?) of Paradox is a bit mystifying is Chapter 7, “Lviv’s Last Synagogue, 1944-1962.”  Once again, the story of the last synagogue and its shuttering in 1962 is interesting in and of itself and could well stand as a separate article, as it apparently has, but its relevance to the theme or themes of Paradox is not at all clear insofar as this occurrence was not in any way a major event in the post-war transformation of L’viv.

A Thesis Out of Thin Air?

The most curious contention in Amar’s Paradox appears in his conclusion titled “A Sonderweig [special path] through Soviet Modernity.”  There he presents what he appears to consider his main thesis, namely, why it is that by the end of the Soviet period in 1991, L’viv and western Ukraine were in important respects unique in Ukraine.  This thesis bears quotation in full.  “In the end, Lviv and Soviet western Ukraine did turn out to be special.  Although Soviet authorities initially announced their intention to make it just like the rest of Ukraine, within about a decade after the second conquest of the area in 1944 the Soviet regime implicitly but clearly conceded and even, in effect, promoted a Soviet western Ukrainian identity—Sovietized and Ukrainian, but also somehow apart and different.  This was neither a coincidence nor due merely to the persistence of pre-Soviet differences but was the result of Soviet policies after 1939.” (p. 322, emphasis added.)

Just to make it clear, what Amar takes to be L’viv’s special character is that which is typically considered to constitute that uniqueness, namely, a heightened Ukrainian national consciousness; an emphasis on a Western, i.e., democratic, political orientation;[5] the renaissance of Ukrainian civil society from its Soviet-created ashes; and a greater emphasis on and use of the Ukrainian language.   Strangely, however, he seems to think that declaring that something is so somehow magically makes it so.  And instead of pointing out which Soviet policies are supposed to have made L’viv special in the ways generally recognized, he instead focuses on the effects of such imaginary policies:  “But if the Soviet period did have an influence so much deeper than a reductionist focus on repression and resistance alone would suggest, what were its effects?”  (p.319)

But this is not merely a case of offering a concluding thesis without proper supporting evidence.  As a consideration of the below facts will demonstrate, Amar’s concluding thesis in Paradox involves a serious misconception, one that is both notable in itself and also because it may suggest a more systematic and fundamental series of misapprehensions and misperceptions about Ukrainian history from which the book suffers.  But first the book’s central misconception.

In another recent volume about L’viv, the historian William Jay Risch wrote about how well before similar actions were undertaken in Moscow and Leningrad in 1991, the inhabitants of L’viv had already brought down that city’s monument to Lenin yet in the summer of 1990. Even earlier, in March 1990, non-communist candidates in L’viv swept city and regional council elections, and a former pro-independence dissident and political prisoner, Viacheslav Chornovil, who referred to L’viv as an “island of freedom,” became head of the L’viv regional council.  L’viv also elected the first non-Communist, democratic and pro-independence mayor of a city government outside the Baltic countries. [6]  What Risch does not mention, however, insofar as that may be beyond the scope of his focus, is that in fact Chornovil was only partially right and—for our purposes, importantly—partially mistaken with his claim of civic boosterism.   For at the same time that L’viv was electing Vasyl’ Shpitser, its democratic mayor in March 1990,[7] the two other key cities in Galician Ukraine, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil, were also electing democratic, pro-independence mayors, Yaroslav Taylich in Ivano-Frankivsk and Viacheslav Nehoda in Ternopil.  Then a year and half later and as the Soviet Union was teetering on the brink of dissolution, in October 1991 another democratic and pro-independence mayor was elected in yet another western Ukrainian city:  Chernivtsi elected my cousin Victor Pavliuk. [8]

These simultaneous and near-simultaneous elections of candidates diametrically opposed to Sovietism—in that the candidates were all democratic rather than Communist, and pro Ukrainian independence rather than pro Union— demonstrate beyond cavil at least two important points.  First, at the time of the gradual loosening of the Soviet Union’s formerly iron grip in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the values and political attitudes held by the majorities of the populations in L’viv and western Ukraine were indeed very different from those held by majorities inhabiting the rest of Ukraine, not to mention the rest of the entire Soviet Union—again, leaving aside the Baltic countries.  Second, and contra Chornovil, L’viv obviously was not a political island.  That is, what these elections demonstrate is that the geographic and demographic cohort that stood out at the end of the Soviet era did not consist merely of the population of L’viv the city or even L’viv the oblast (region), but it rather consisted of the population of the entire Ukrainian Galicia, the traditional heart of western Ukraine—and also of some of its immediate neighboring regions.

These March 1990 and then October 1991 elections highlight just how far off base the concluding thesis in Paradox is.  Amar contends that what made L’viv stand out by the end of the Soviet period was not the persistence of pre-war attitudes and worldviews, whether due to the region’s former residence in the constitutional Hapsburg empire or due to the influence of pre-Soviet Ukrainian nationalism/patriotism, but by the policies and practices employed by Soviet rule during the post-war Soviet regime.  Unless one thinks that Soviet policies and practices were all along geared toward their own self-negation, i.e., toward the election of anti-Communist, pro democratic and pro Ukrainian municipal candidates throughout L’viv and western Ukraine the moment that this became possible, it becomes clear that Amar’s thesis is altogether fanciful.

If Amar’s contention about L’viv’s uniqueness were a thesis that naturally stood independently, as, for example, does his chapter on the last synagogue, then one could just treat it as an unfortunate blip on the wider screen that constitutes Paradox when taken as a whole.  But, unfortunately, that is not the case insofar as this thesis seems to be related to a number of the book’s other problems.

Questions of Confusion and Coherence

 Somewhat unexpectedly, Paradox begins with something of a muddle.  To wit, it is unclear what exactly the full title of the book, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv—A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists, means and what sense it makes.  For Amar, it is paradoxical, or perhaps one might say ironic, that it was the Nazis and the Soviets—both of which were viewed by Ukrainians as antithetical to Ukraine’s and, thus, L’viv’s becoming Ukrainian—who in the end were the one’s that helped L’viv become Ukrainian by the Nazis having removed L’viv’s Jewish population and the Soviets its Polish population.  That much makes perfect sense.  But how was L’viv a “borderland” city, whatever that is supposed to mean in this case, between the Stalinists, Nazis and Nationalists?  Presumably Amar here is using “between” in the sense of “among.”  But which are the entities involved in this relation of being “between”?  And is the purported relation temporally simultaneous or serial?  When L’viv was under Stalinist influence or control (1939-41 and then 1944-91) , it was not under Nazi influence or control (1941-44), and when it was under Nazi influence or control, it was not under Stalinist influence or control.  Then, Amar never even tries to show how L’viv was ever under “nationalist” control because, of course, it never was, so in what sense was L’viv “between” Stalinists, Nazis and Nationalists?

There is also a kind of thematic incoherence at the heart of Paradox.  Upon finishing a book of history, a reader ought to be able without too much difficulty to describe what the book is about—beyond the most general of descriptions such as that the book is about L’viv, (or about Bavaria or Belgium).  Yet upon finishing Paradox, the reader remains puzzled as to what exactly it is that the book is about—beyond its somehow obviously being about L’viv.[9]

There are at least four different candidates that appear to serve as possible responses to the question of what the book is about.  Is it that the book is about L’viv’s various 20th century evolutions or transformations, as suggested by the book’s opening sentence:  “This book is a local and transnational study of the twentieth-century experience of a European borderland city with four key forces of European and global twentieth-century history:  Soviet Communism, Soviet nation shaping (here Ukrainization), nationalism, and Nazism”? (p.1)  Or is the book’s subject the “double paradox” of how L’viv was molded into a modern national center by two opposing regimes, i.e., the Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, as suggested by passages such as “Thus, the modern foundations of today’s Lviv, geographically on the margins but central to Ukraine’s identity, politics, and culture of memory, encapsulates a double—and recent—paradox. . . ”? (p.1)  Or is the subject what made and makes L’viv different or special, as suggested by the title of the book’s conclusion “A Sonderweg through Soviet Modernity” (p.318), or by passages about how “Recent research confirms that, among Ukraine’s regions, western Ukraine is the one most clearly distinguishable in terms of demography, political orientation, language, and economy”? (p.320)  Or is the subject how, purportedly, it was specifically Soviet policies that made modern L’viv Ukrainian?  This is suggested by passages such as those stating that “My interpretation of what happened in Lviv after 1944 attaches significantly more weight to the party-state’s role in shaping identities” (p.322), or claims in which Amar avers that the specificity of L’viv and Western Ukraine “persisted with the willing and unwilling, intentional and unintentional support of decades of Soviet postwar policy,” (p.319) or that “the Soviet period did have an influence so much deeper. . . .” (p.319)   That Paradox leaves the reader somewhat at a loss as to which—or is it all?—of these possible subjects the book is actually about does not contribute to its thematic coherence.

The choice of material for inclusion into the book also reflects some thematic uncertainty.  The first of the volume’s eight chapters is devoted to offering some historical context, i.e., a sketch of L’viv’s pre-1939 history when it was known as Hapsburg Lemberg and then Polish Lwo’w.  Leaving aside for the moment how well or deficiently this material is covered, the topic itself obviously fits into any book about L’viv’s history.  Then there are the separate chapters devoted to the first Soviet occupation of L’viv and western Ukraine in 1939-41 and the German occupation of 1941-44, respectively.  It is unclear why the first Soviet occupation deserves that much attention insofar as its impact upon what L’viv, according to Amar, would become after the end of the war was somewhat limited.  But given that one of Amar’s themes appears to be how L’viv became depopulated of its Jewish and Polish inhabitants, the chapter on the German occupation makes sense, as of course do the subsequent two chapters on the post-war Sovietization and industrialization of L’viv that are the heart of the book.

What is more difficult to understand is the relevance of the book’s last three chapters.  Chapter six is mainly devoted to a description of how Soviet rulers alternately persecuted and co-opted L’viv’s pre-war intelligentsia.  That is not an unknown story, but, more importantly, it is not obvious how it relates to, much less supports, Amar’s thesis that it was Soviet rule that made L’viv and western Ukraine special.  As noted earlier, the possible relevance of the penultimate chapter devoted to the closing of L’viv’s last Synagogue in 1962 is even more difficult to comprehend, as is the last chapter devoted to two historical actors that Amar himself acknowledges were historically insignificant, namely, the pre-war Communist Party of Western Ukraine and the supposedly Ukrainian Communist war-time partisan organization called the Narodna Hvardia.   How any of these subjects relates to the author’s thesis is less than clear.

Paradox also contains some conceptual muddles.  Amar refers, correctly, to interwar Poland (presumably to the later part of the interwar period) as “increasingly authoritarian.” (p.2)  But then he also frequently refers to the Soviet Union and sometimes Nazi Germany as also being “authoritarian.”  Examples include:  “two highly authoritarian and massively violent regimes—Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union” (pp.1-2); “Embedded in Communist ideas and practices, it was an authoritarian socialist mission. . .” (pp.7-8); the “foundations of socialism” “remained violently authoritarian” (p.10); and post-Socialist Western Ukraine is said to be a product of a “Soviet and authoritarian-socialist” history. (p.19)  Despite the period in Soviet studies when conceptual clarity may have become somewhat blurred, “totalitarianism” has been used to refer to regimes that are not only authoritarian, i.e., that seek to monopolize political power, but those that go much further by destroying all vestiges of civil society and by imposing as a substitute their own total ideational control over society.   As Amar himself demonstrates in detail, what Soviet rule did went very far beyond what Poland’s rulers in the 1930s sought to do, so his insistence on designating Soviet rule as “authoritarian” rather than as “totalitarian” makes little sense.

An anti-Ukrainian Tendentiousness

When reading Paradox, it was surprising to encounter what appears to be an anti-Ukrainian tendentiousness.  In some instances that tendentiousness is subtle; in others, less so.

When Amar writes about a Ukrainian having been the object of a political assassination, he refers to it, unsurprisingly, as having been a killing or an assassination (“After the 1926 killing of exiled Ukainian anti-Bolshevik leader Symon Petliura” (p.100) or “The Ukrainian exile leader Symon Petliura had been assassinated” (p.104 n.108)).   Yet for some reason when it is Ukrainians who are involved as the perpetrators of a political assassination, Amar refers to them not as assassins but as murderers and terrorists, terms that are more highly charged (“two young Ukrainian nationalist terrorists murdered a Polish school inspector” and “one of the murderers was Roman Shukhevych” (p.42, emphasis added)).  And, when writing about an instance of a Ukrainian-conducted assassinations, Amar also makes a special point of opining about how mindless that action was, even though that is the only occasion on which he offers his own judgment about such things:  “With the intellectual poverty typical of terrorism, shooting a bureaucrat on his way home from the cinema appeared to be self-assertion and protest.”

For Amar, the term “nationalism” is, to put it mildly, hardly a term of approbation.  So it is noteworthy that for some reason he usually refers to Poles involved in the Polish-Ukrainian conflict in or for control of L’viv simply as “Poles” or as the “Polish underground” or as the “Home Army” while almost always referring to their Ukrainian adversaries as “Ukrainian nationalists.”  (“When the Germans left in July, the Polish Home Army fought them” (p.139); “there were clashes between the Home Army and Ukrainian nationalists” (p.139); “Feelers for cooperation between the Polish underground and the Ukrainian nationalists” (p.141); “When the Polish underground reasserted itself” (p.146); “armed Polish groups taking over parts of Lviv” (p.146); “when Ukrainian nationalist ethnic cleansing moved west” (p.148); “With Poles also launching attacks on Ukrainians in the countryside” (p.149).  Not surprisingly, when one looks at the book’s index, one finds that the entry “Ukrainian nationalism” contains a long list of citations whereas the index does not even contain an entry for “Polish nationalism.”  So, Ukrainian nationalism was a phenomenon and Polish nationalism was not?

There is also tendentiousness in Amar’s omissions.  In a footnote he writes that Ukrainian nationalist activists incarcerated in Auschwitz received some preferential treatment in that only 16 out of the 48 nationalists sent to the camp in a particular three week period died and that in other instances a few nationalists may have been released.  What Amar doesn’t mention is that Stepan Bandera’s two brothers were both killed in Auschwitz.  Given that Amar’s tome chooses to place great emphasis on the OUN-B’s cooperation with the Nazis, the fact that its titular leader’s two brothers not only were incarcerated by the Nazis in Auschwitz but actually died there is not a trivial omission.

In Amar’s apparent view of the history of L’viv and western Ukraine, non-Ukrainian sources—with only one exception, the one related to Poles having pretended that it was not Poles that had carried out the anti-Jewish pogrom in 1918 L’viv—always seem unquestionable, whereas Ukrainian sources are routinely called into question.  Thus, for example, Amar suggests that what Ukrainians who joined the Waffen SS may have thought or said about their own actions for some reason isn’t credible and that he, Amar, is better placed to know what they were or were not really thinking:  “Sometimes, joining the Waffen–SS has been rationalized as patriotism.”  (p. 123)  Amar’s speculations to the contrary, that is exactly how many, if not most, Ukrainians who joined that Division viewed their actions, and that is how the vast majority of other Ukrainians at the time and subsequently, regardless whether they thought the creation of the Division a good idea or a bad idea, thought, as my various family members and countless others of that generation have said in my presence on innumerable occasions.

Regarding a Ukrainian witness named Yevhen Nakonechnyi, Amar writes “Nakonechnyi’s memoirs were written with an explicit apologetic agenda,” and “in this work, Nakonechnyi’s writing is used where plausible.” (p.36 n. 83)  Kost Pankiwskyi, a Ukrainian witness who apparently viewed Sovietization differently from the way in which Amar does, is introduced as “a Ukrainian national activist, politician, and collaborator with the Germans” (p.11), even though the view attributed to him had nothing to do with what Pankiwskyi had done during German occupation, which was to represent the Ukrainian community in dealings with the occupying Germans.  In fact, if someone were to want to present even a brief characterization of Pankiwskyi that was more balanced and fair to his public persona, one might note that he was a well regarded attorney who was a member of the democratic and centrist UNDO, and someone who was critical of what he termed OUN’s hysterical nationalism in the 1930s.   Yet another Ukrainian writer whom Amar discounts is Volodymyr Viatrovych:  “Generally, Volodymyr Viatrovych’s work is politically biased by his committed national history activism and is used here only where plausible.”  (p.106 n.124)  Yet the credibility of a Polish diarist’s view that Ukrainians were a “’savage horde’” of “’bandits’” and “’monsters’” (p.36) is simply taken by Amar at face value, and he neither questions that writer’s credibility nor offers any editorial comment—as he is wont to do when using Ukrainian sources.

A Superficial Familiarity With Ukrainian History?

When I was driven along various back roads between L’viv and Kolomiya in 1989 and then between L’viv, Kolomiya and the village Vitvitsia near the Carpathian Mountains in the early 1990s, several things stood out.  One was the number of mini memorials consisting of a cross surrounded by fresh flowers near or along many of the roadsides.  It turned out that these were memorials to fallen fighters of the nationalist Ukrainian Partisan Army (“UPA”) that, among other things, fought both militarily and ideologically against Soviet rule until the mid 1950s.  As one of my drivers commented, the memorials had sprung up like mushrooms after a rainfall.  The other noticeable thing was the hubbub of activity near many churches.  This was due to the reemergence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church after it had had to spend decades in the catacombs.  Prof. Amar’s ignoring the symbolic impact of the UPA, the revitalizing organizational impact of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the political impact of RUKH when trying to describe and explain the uniqueness of L’viv is baffling.

Amar apparently is not an admirer of the UPA.  He is, of course, entitled to his opinions.  But his opinions should be irrelevant to the historical analysis in which he engages.  Thus when he offers an analysis of how L’viv and western Ukraine were different, such opinions cannot justify pretending that the historical legacy of the UPA did not exist in L’viv and western Ukraine, or that its influence did not extend all the way to the end of the Soviet era.  And yet Prof. Amar does not even attempt to offer an account of what the UPA meant to some substantial portion of L’viv and western Ukrainian society or why.  What was it—despite the extraordinary counter-insurgency measures implemented by the Soviets and despite the violence in which the UPA engaged, and especially the violence directed against other Ukrainians—that allowed the UPA to survive for a decade after Soviet conquest of western Ukraine?  Prof. Amar has nothing to offer about this.  And what is it, after some 45 years of Soviet rule, that explains all of those mini memorials to the UPA at the end of that rule?  Once again, Prof. Amar has nothing to offer.

The social and political movement whose activities led to the creation of an independent Ukraine in 1991 was what came to be known as the People’s Movement for Ukraine, known in Ukrainian as “Rukh” (Movement).[10]    Almost half of the delegates to the 1989 founding congress of Rukh in September 1989 were from western Ukraine.[11]  When I attended Rukh’s second congress in October 1990, I too had the impression that L’viv and western Ukraine were overrepresented.  All of this yet again confirms the fact acknowledged by Amar and everyone else that L’viv and western Ukraine were and are indeed different.  But if a historian is actually interested in locating the foundations of this difference, then it behooves him/her to learn about what has happened in L’viv as well as what people in L’viv have been thinking with enough depth and breadth so as not to ignore the obvious influence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church or the influence of the UPA legacy.  With respect to the latter, an obvious question that arises is, was there any connection or continuity between organized Ukrainian nationalism in the 1940s and 1950s, L’viv and Rukh?  If so, what was the nature of that connection or continuity?  Once again, Prof. Amar has nothing to offer about any of this.  But three of Rukh’s most important leaders were natives of or transplants to L’viv, each a human rights activist and Soviet dissident who had spent time in the Gulag:  Mykhailo Horyn, his younger brother Bohdan Horyn and the earlier mentioned Vyacheslav Chornovil.  As noted by Myroslav Shkandrij in his masterful study Ukrainian Nationalism,

“In the seventies, three decades after the war, Mykhailo Horyn met some OUN members who were still serving their sentences in the Gulag.  The imprisoned dissident, like other Ukrainian and Jewish prisoners of conscience who at this time found themselves in the camps, came to admire the steadfastness of these old prisoners, their discipline, solidarity, and commitment to national rights.  He wrote:  ‘To this day I cannot fathom how we succeeded in educating those kamikazis—not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of people who were ready to die for the Ukrainian idea. (. . .)  The thirties developed the idea of a state as the primary value in the system of values.  No one asked what kind of state it should be, no one delved into economics, the social structure that had to emerge in that state.  Everyone simply agreed: we will win a state, and then everything will fall into its required place.’”[12]

The point here being that however critically or admiringly one may view the actions of organized Ukrainian nationalists before, during and after W.W. II, if one purports to be doing a history of L’viv it is not a sign of historical competence to ignore how parts or all of that movement were remembered in L’viv and how that memory then influenced L’viv’s political choices, which, in turn, made it stand out.  Lacunae such as this, but not only this, prompt the reader of Paradox to the nagging suspicion that the book author’s familiarity with and understanding of Ukrainian history was mediated by and learned through his prior and more thorough study of Soviet and Holocaust histories.  And this may also explain why certain sections of Paradox are significantly more informed than others.

[1]   I use the contemporary name of “L’viv” throughout this review essay for the sake of simplicity and without any intention of slighting the city’s other names by which it was known under different occupations and regimes.

[2] Tarik C. Amar, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv—A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell U. Press, 2015).

[3]   As will be noted more fully below, for some inexplicable reason Amar studiously avoids the term “totalitarian” in connection with the Soviet Union.

[4]   Christoph Mick, Lemberg, Lwo’w, L’viv, 1914-1947: Violence and Ethnicity in a Contested City (West Lafayette, Indiana:  Purdue U. Press, 2016), initially published in German as Kriegserfahrungen in einer Multiethnischen Stadt:  Lemberg, 1914-1947 (Wiesbaden:  Otto Harrasowitz Verlag, 2010).

[5]   Amar’s arguing that, e.g., fascism or ethnic nationalism are also characteristic of western Ukraine does not make his argument stronger; if anything, it unintentionally makes it even weaker in that it is hard to imagine that Amar would want to argue that it was Soviet policies that promoted Ukrainian ethnic nationalism.

[6]  William J. Risch, The Ukrainian West—Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Cambridge, Mass. & London:  Harvard U. Press, 2011) 1.

[7]   In the 1990 Soviet Union, mayors were elected by what we would call the city council rather than directly by the populace.

[8]   I am indebted to Victor Pavliuk for the details relating to the municipal elections in western Ukraine in 1990 and 1991.

[9]   In contrast to the state of affairs found in Paradox, what two other recently published books about L’viv “are about” is quite clear.  As already noted, in his Lemberg Christopher Mick explained at the outset that his book will employ and consist of Erfahrungsgeschichte, a history of experience, i.e., how Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, respectively, experienced the same wars, occupations and political reversals that all of L’viv’s inhabitants endured, and he then went out and accomplished just that in rich detail and with depth of understanding.  On the other hand, in his The Ukrainian West—Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Cambridge, Mass. & London:  Harvard U. Press, 2011), William J. Risch sets out, based largely on numerous interviews with Ukrainians who had lived through the period, to describe and explain how and why L’viv became and was “an island of freedom” by the end of the Soviet era, as apparently the former political prisoner cum political leader Vyacheslav Chornovyl had called it.  Risch then goes on to accomplish that announced task.

[10]   As political events rapidly evolved, Rukh modified its full name from in 1989 having included a reference to the term “perestroika” to subsequently dropping it.

[11]   Vladimir Paniotto, “The Ukrainian Movement for Perestroika—‘Rukh’:  A Sociological Survey, Soviet Studies, Vol. 43, No. 1, 1991, 177.

[12]   Myroslav Shkandrij, Ukrainian Nationalism—Politics, Ideology, and Literature, 1929-1956 (New Haven & London:  Yale U. Press, 2015) 12, quoting from Mykhailo Horyn, “My mriialy pro nezalezhnu derzhavu” (We dreamed of an independent country), Zustrichi 2 (1991), 38-49.


Bohdan Vitvitsky has written and lectured on subjects in history, law and philosophy.  His The Other Holocaust, Many Circles of Hell published in 1980 was the first English language monograph on the Nazi victimization of Slavs.  Recent lectures and publications have been on the rule of law, the challenges of corruption and the Ukrainian legal system.  Until March 2017, he served as the special advisor to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine.  He holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy, both from Columbia University.

Bohdan Vitvitsky

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