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Lviv history


       The city was founded in 1256 by King Danylo of the Ruthenian duchy of Halych-Volhynia (Galicia-Volyn). He named it in honor of his son, Lev. However, some archaeological excavations show that the region was populated since the 5th century. The first mention of Lviv in writing documents was in 1256.

        It became capital of the Galicia-Volyn district in 1272. Since then, it knew a great development thanks to its good location, between the Baltic and the Black sea and as situated close to the Carpathian mountains. As the city has a strategic geographic location, it early had to face invaders as Tatars, Turks, Moldavians and mainly Poles.

Lwów, Polish city

         In 1349, Polish King, Kazimierz III captured the city and ordered to move it a little southern. Lviv was rebuilt as European plan : a central square surrounded by living quarters and fortifications. He built the High castle located on a steep hill (300 meters high), dismantled in 1870. All defense of the town was completed in 1445, including a lower castle, rebuild in 1565 to replace the wooden structures.

        Kazimierz III granted the city with the Magdeburg rights. That means that the city issues were to be solved by a city council, elected by wealthy citizens. As it was a major trade center, lot of people went to settle there as German, Armenians and other merchants. Lviv became a really multi-cultural and multi-religious city with lot of churches, still existing today, Latin Cathedral, Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, Armenian Cathedral along with synagogues. In 1387, this area was directly included in the Polish Crown by Jadwiga of Poland.

        The 17th century was marked by a high development of craft organization in all kind but also by few intends of invasion and several besieges. The successful besiege was done by the Cossacks in 1649 for a short time as they gave it back to the Polish Kingdom for a ransom. After then, Swedish, Transylvanian, Turkish, Ottomans and Tatars tried but failed to take over the city. The first time Lviv was captured was in 1704 by Charles XII of Sweden.

Lemberg, Austro-hungarian city

         After the first partition of Poland, in 1772, Lviv (Lemberg) became the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And the official language switched to German even if lectures were also given in Polish and Ukrainian till 1805 at the University. Indeed, at the beginning of the 19th century started a campaign of Germanization which led to the outbreak of public dissent in 1848. At the result of this uprising, the Galician Parliament (Sejm Krajowy) was opened and in 1867, Galicia was granted vast autonomy. However, only lectures in Polish were allowed at that time. During all the Austrian-Hungarian ruling, the preeminence of Poles gave them more power in the Administration and Council even if Habsburg dynasty was evidently playing with one or another for its own interest.

Lviv in the 20th century

          After the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg empire, the Ukrainian National Council (Rada) proclaimed the West Ukrainian People's Republic on November 1, 1918. Poles, forming the majority of Lviv but minority in the region, were surprised by this political step. Then, the majority of Poles in Lviv, including the Lwow Eaglets, started armed and took back the city quickly even if Ukrainian army besieged it. The Inter-Allied Commission in Paris decided to leave the city under Polish rules waiting for the Peace Treaty.

        At this time, Joseph Pilsusdki, Polish president, and Symon Petlura signed an agreement in April 1920 to join they force against the Red Army. During the Polish Soviet war, Poles and Ukrainian of the OuN fought together. However, at the time of the Peace Treaty signature, Polish delegation agreed the sharing of Ukraine between Russia and them. This Polish betrayal for Ukrainian was the result of Polish internal political fight. Thus, the Peace Treaty of Riga (March 18, 1921), shared Ukraine in two part. One was attached to Polish Republic while the other one became the SSR of Ukraine. In Galicia, Polish authorities started a campaign of polonization reducing the rights of Ukrainian people and closing lot of schools or transforming them to Polish-Ukrainian schools which in fact were solely Polish ones.

Lviv during the Second World War

         In 1939, while Germany invaded Poland as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact foresaw it, Red Army occupied all of the nowadays Ukraine. Galicia was included to the SSR of Ukraine and Stalin started its repression against nationalists. Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish Intelligentsia was send to Siberia to the Gulag. Lot of people were executed, in particular War prisoners. During two year this region knew a hard Soviet dictatorship while it had never been under Russian domination before.

        In 1941, the Nazis, breaking their pact with Russia, invaded the Ukrainian SSR, starting from Galicia and taking Lviv on June 1941. They were welcomed as liberators by local population after two years of Soviet oppression, remembering the Austro-Hungarian quite liberal ruling. The OuN declared independence of the Western Ukraine before being imprisoned by Nazis. Then started the extermination of Jews : the deportation to extermination camp, mainly Belzec; creation of the Lviv Ghetto where around 120 000 Jews were put and only 200 or 300 hundred survived, and direct execution, the so-called Holocaust by ballet, in all the region. Around 1 million and a half Jews died in two years and all Jewish life was destroyed.

        In 1944, the Red Army took over Galicia and started again deportations of Ukrainian, Tatars and Poles who were supposed to have collaborated. Officially, the nowadays border were defined at the Yalta conference in February 1945. But a secret agreement between the Ukrainian SSR and the Provisary Government of Poland in Lublin set down, in September 1944, the transfer of Poles of Ukraine and Ukrainians of Poland to their respective country. About one million and a half people were displaced.

Lviv and the Soviet time

         After the war, the multi-cultural and multi-religious character of Lviv was almost totally destroyed with all Jewish population exterminated or exiled, Poles back to the newly won territories on Germany and German expulsed or murdered. The Greek Church was not recognized by the Soviet Government. All display of Ukrainian nationalism was immediately repressed. Lviv could be again the center of Ukrainian culture only after the death of Stalin.

        During Soviet time, Lviv was known for its bus factory (Lvivsky Avtomobilny Zavod), TV factory (Zavod Elektron), shoes factory (Obuvnaya Fabrika Progress)... which survived till today but decease their activities cause of the economic transition to capitalism. During the time of Perestroika and Glasnost, Lviv became the center of Rukh (People's Movement of Ukraine) which played in important role during the independence time.

L'viv and the independent Ukraine

         Today, Lviv Oblast is known has the most nationalist region of Ukraine, where most of people speak Ukrainian language and advocate their belonging to European culture and in political matter largely supporting Viktor Yushenko. The city is nowadays populated by 800 thousands inhabitants and its historical center was added to the UNESCO World Heritage in 1998. It presents a high diversity of architecture including Eastern European, Italian and German but also Gothic, renaissance, baroque, classic styles and Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.


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  • : Mémoires Vives
  • Mémoires Vives
  • : Ce blog vise à faire découvrir l'Ukraine, ses paysages, sa culture et sa mémoire - notamment celle de la communauté juive de Lviv. This blog aim at the discovery of Ukraine, its landscapes, its culture and its memory - especially the one of the Jewish Community of Lviv.
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