Lviv museum recounts Soviet, Nazi atrocities

Print version
May 13, 2010, 9:58 p.m. | Ukraine — by Natalia A. Feduschak

Some archival materials suggest that up to 1,700 detainees were shot in Prison Number One on Lonskoho in Lviv between June 22 and 28 of 1941. The victims were buried at Yanivske Cemetery in Lviv.
© (

Natalia A. Feduschak

LVIV, Ukraine – Near the end of June 1941, as the German army began its offensive on Lviv and the ruling Soviets were in retreat, Ivan Kindrat and three other medical students scurried toward the city’s prison. It was commonly known as Number One. An acquaintance who lived across the street from the penitentiary told them that on the night of June 28, 1941, he had heard gunshots and blood-curdling screams coming from there.

What Kindrat saw at the prison, which was run by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, horrified him.

“From the courtyard, doors led to a large space, filled from top to bottom with corpses,” he later wrote. “The bottom ones were still warm. The victims were between 15 and 60 years old, but most were 20-35 years old. They laid in various poses, with open eyes and masks of terror on their faces. Among them were many women.

On the left wall, three men were crucified, barely covered by clothing from their shoulders, with severed male organs. Underneath them on the floor in half-sitting, leaning positions – two nuns with those organs in their mouths. The victims of the NKVD’s sadism were killed with a shot in the mouth or the back of the head. But most were stabbed in the stomach with a bayonet. Some were naked or almost naked, others in decent street clothes. One man was in a tie, most likely just arrested.”

The archive photo shows a victim of executions by NKVD, the Soviet secret service, in 1941. (

Within a week, photographs that Kindrat had taken at the prison were published in Krakivsky Visti, a Ukrainian-language newspaper based in Krakow, Poland. Some would never appear in print. They were censored by the authorities because “they did not risk showing such savage crimes,” Kindrat wrote.

As Ukraine, Russia and Belarus elaborately commemorated the 65-year anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany on May 9, Lviv’s museum Prison on Lonskoho stands as a stark reminder of the other side of history – the terrors Soviet authorities unleashed on their own people, both during and after World War II.

Soviet archival documents later revealed that of the prison’s 3,638 detainees, 1,366 were executed from June 22-28, 1941, although the museum notes that number is closer to 1,700 people. Of the prison population murdered in Lviv in the final days of the city’s first Soviet occupation, which lasted from 1939-1941, 42 percent came from prison Number One.

“The museum is meant to preserve the national memory,” said Iryna Yezerska, a young researcher who is focusing on the prison’s history. “It is a reminder that these crimes against people shouldn’t happen again.”

Located near Lviv’s famed Polytechnic Institute near the city center, the Prison on Lonskoho museum was established on June 29, 2009, following nearly four years of citizen’s initiatives demanding that Ukraine’s authorities honor the memory of those who had been killed and detained there during the years of Soviet rule. It was designated a national museum on Oct. 13, 2009.

One of the museum’s guiding principles is to show visitors the conditions in which detainees lived and to indicate those places where mass executions took place, said museum director Ruslan Zabiliy.

Ukraine’s state security services had hoped to build living quarters for officers on the grounds of the prison. Construction was abandoned after one-time detainees of the Soviet-era prison protested, arguing that prisoners had been executed in the courtyard. (Natalia A. Feduschak)

“We wanted to preserve what was here,” Zabiliy said.

To that end, the museum is an object frozen in time. With peeling paint and rust on the walls, the building looks just as it did when the secret police vacated it in the early years of Ukraine’s independence.

Branching off its long corridors are cells once meant for those condemned to death: The windows are boarded up so that sunlight, which could indicate the time of day, cannot filter in. Museum staff members have recreated rooms where detainees were questioned and, in one cell, painted a white square on the floor that shows how much space was allocated to each prisoner – half a square meter. Although cells were supposed to hold six people, they often held 10-15 people for days and months on end. The room where inmates had their pictures taken remains intact.

Rooms also commemorate those bloody days in June 1941, when the Soviet secret police began massacring Ukrainians. Pasted on the walls in one room are clippings from Ukrainskiy Schodenniy Visti (Ukrainian Daily News), which ran ads by relatives looking for family members who were detained by the NKVD. Another wall denotes the number of people who were killed in the prison from nearby villages.

Black-and-white footage of desecrated bodies lying in the prison’s courtyard and weeping relatives bent over in anguish replays in another room. Upon reaching the prison, the Germans had immediately filmed the results of the Soviet massacre and used it for propaganda purposes. The film was shown internationally. Soon, foreign media from then-neutral countries, as well as the International Red Cross, descended on Lviv to document the horrors.

It was not long, though, before the Germans began their own executions at the prison.

High on their list were members of the more radical Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, often referred to as Banderites. Established in 1929, OUN strove to create an independent and unified Ukrainian state, frequently using armed struggle to achieve its goals. The Nuremberg trials unveiled a secret document from Nov. 25, 1941, on display at the museum, where Germany’s leadership called on its own secret police to “immediately arrest and after detailed questioning secretly execute (Banderites) as thieves.”

But Poles and Jews were also executed at the prison.

After the Soviet Union consolidated its power over western Ukraine in 1944, the prison continued to be Lviv’s primary holding center for Ukrainian nationalists who were frequently detained and questioned before being shipped off to Siberian labor camps. Some were shot. In the 1960s and 1970s, the prison housed some of Ukraine’s leading dissidents, including the late Vyacheslav Chornovil, and conscientious objectors. It closed as a prison in the mid-1990s.
Despite its long and mostly tragic history, the prison museum today faces an uncertain future.

The museum was supposed to become a part of the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory until Ukraine’s new government started sending signals the institute might be liquidated.

Although one of the benefits in being a national museum is that it is funded through the state budget, the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has not allocated any money for the museum this year, not even for employee salaries, said Zabiliy. Some in Lviv say because of its significance, authorities in Kyiv are afraid to shut the museum down, but hope it will die its own death through a lack of funding.

Zabiliy said he is certain the museum will survive, although, as a result of the financial cutoff, many of the plans for expansion are now on hold. Staff had hoped to improve the museum using the latest media technologies that would give the visitor a better feel for the complex history which led to the atrocities that took place there, as well as create conditions for scholars to conduct research.

Currently, the museum is functioning largely through donations from local philanthropists who believe in the museum’s importance, said Zabiliy.

“People are not apathetic,” he said.

Natalia A. Feduschak is the Kyiv Post’s western Ukrainian correspondent. She can be reached at

About the museum:
The Prison on Lonskoho museum is located at 1 Stepan Bandera Street, but the entrance is on Briulova Street. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00. English language tours can be arranged through 032/243-0446 or Entrance is free. The museum’s website is
The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively debate. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. If you think that a posted comment violates these standards, please flag it and alert us. We will take steps to block violators.
Anonymous May 13, 2010, 11:42 p.m.    

A very informative and explainatory article about the prison in Lviv that every Ukrainian, especially those in Eastern Ukraine should become familiar with. Those Eastern Ukrainian citizens who defame Bandera should be required to visit this prison in order to become informed about the atrocities commited by both the German Nazi invaders and the Soviet Russian invaders of Ukraine and why the UPA fought against both.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 10:58 a.m.    

Yes they should, and they should learn about the attrocities committed by the Ukrainians against your Jewish neighbors. When the Nazis came into the prisons, they used the NKVD attrocities as an excuse to torture asnd murder the Jews. The Ukrainians were the ones who participated in this cruelty to their Jews. No matter how much you try to deny it, the truth will becone known.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 15, 2010, 10:01 a.m.    

very good.

speaking the truth

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 15, 2010, 10:26 a.m.    

... and by some interesting coincidence there were more Ukrainians than Jews killed by the Nazis in WW2. What the people do need to learn is what a bullshit savetskaya propaganda was was what a lasting effect it can have on some individuals.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 13, 2010, 11:57 p.m.    

Very good article and I agree with your comment. The biggest problem is that so many in the east totally refuse to listen or even acknowledge anything that is contrary to what they &quot;want&quot; to believe as truth. The fact that the Soviet Union was an entity every bit as evil and tyrannical as Nazi Germany is something they refuse to even discuss.

The so-called liberation from the Nazi's was merely replacing one dictatorship with another.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 15, 2010, 12:36 a.m.    

Eastern Ukrainians for the most part were not affected by the heinous acts of the red army and the Nazi's, therefore they have no knowledge of nor any connections to these tragedies, in fact, most are not even Ukrainian but product of Soviet forced relocation from Russia. Have a little respect for the country you live in. Have just a touch of moral decency toward your neighbors, I know its a lot to expect from your kind, but really now.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 8:42 p.m.    

You should study and see how many Jewish people were in the NKVD

and how many Ukrainians were murdered by Jews who collaborated with the Russians in the Holodomor and the Red Terror. You're eyes will open quite wide as you read about the likes of Lazar Kaganovich and so many others like him. Today the Jews should be more worried about their Arab neighbors who want to wipe the state of Israel off the map than making up stories and trying to cast collective guilt at so many European nations about the past.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 15, 2010, 10:31 a.m.    

I strongly doubt that was a Jew speaking above.. rather some russo-disturbed. However, it is a historic fact that the Jews were indeed overrepresented in the high ranks of the Soviet repressive machine. Some documentaries made in western Europe on the russo-soviet regime mention this.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 6:50 p.m.    

Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine want jobs and food. We do not care about all this 70-year-old stuff. It is a history.

Americans were doing the same with Native Americans. Americans exiled US citizens with Japanese origin during the WWII. All this is a history.

We are living NOW. We do not want all this every day. Moreover, many NKVD murderers were killed soon and were announced the enemies of the state. They also became victims on the regular basis. They fulfilled their roles and then were killed, too. It was such a time. Let us live normally without all those corpses every day.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 8:23 p.m.    

Why don't you go tell the Jews that they should forget about

WW II and the Jewish Holocaust. I'm sure that they will be able

to straigthen you out quite quickly.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 15, 2010, 2:53 a.m.    

For Jews Holocaust is a good example of antisemitism when they apply for immigration to Germany and the USA. They, basically, make money using the Holocaust. What's the deal for Ukrainians? How many millions of people from Ukraine immigrated to Germany with a proof that at least 1 grandmother was Jewish? Everybody knows why all that noise about Holocaust is needed. Ukrainians can get nothing from all this eternal story about Holodomor. Only politicians benefit from it.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 7:35 p.m.    

A serious question for the KP editors from a non Ukrainian reader.

Why is it that this article has emotive pictures of death and crime when the articles about similar exhibitions against the other criminal acts by Ukrainian groups show angry demonstrator scenes protesting against exhibitions?

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 15, 2010, 3:08 a.m.    

There is a difference both in who is to blame and who starts the atrocities. UPA actions in Western Ukraine were the answer to Polish agression in attempt to have a &quot;Polish corridor&quot; between Poland and Lviv. Another Polish policy that made this possible was sendign the &quot;osadniki&quot; Poles in Ukraine in order to assimilate us.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 8:17 p.m.    

To some of our esteemed &quot;Guests&quot;: Is there any way you can focus for a meoment on someone else's history and someone else's tragedy, instead of automatically pushing your own history and your own agenda to the forefront? When people hear about the Holocaust, they listen with sympathy. Try that once.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 8:48 p.m.    

Some of these &quot;Guests&quot; are afraid that if one digs too deeply into the atrocities committed by the KGB they will find their own relatives involved in those atrocities.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 14, 2010, 8:44 p.m.    

The Jews have built memorials and museums about the holocaust. As a student, we saw hundreds of photos of the gas ovens and concentration camps, so why does it bother you that the Ukranian people remember their equal tradgedy. The Jewish people even set up an institute to track down their killers around the world and demanded their own country. The Palistinians were removed from what we call Isreal. Cannot the Ukranian government remove the invaders left in Eastern Ukraine? Instead after all these their invaders still think they are entitled to take over and steal what they can.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 15, 2010, 10:46 p.m.    

All this is sad. Ukrainian communists were killing Ukrainian nationalists. Kind of a civil war... OUNs problem is their colaboration with Nazi Germany and killings of civil people (mostly Poles). Although I am not from Galitsia, I do feel sorry for the victims of communists as well as for the victims of nationalists. Why not put together a joint museum in memoria?

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 16, 2010, 1:58 a.m.    

The current administration is not the only administration that has been out to destroy the intellectual people power of Ukrainians.

&gt;&gt; 1920’s The kremlin kills 8,000,000 – 9,000,000 Ukrainians during lenin’s famine, and the forced “collectivization” of Ukraine, etc. In their continuing GENOCIDE of the Ukrainian people, culture and language, they called Ukrainians – Kulaks or “enemy of the people”, rather than Ukrainians, to rationalize their GENOCIDE of the Ukrainian people. Also, the kremlin attacked the Ukrainian churches when the Ukrainian churches were helping the millions (1,000,000’s) of Ukrainians that were starving to death.

In the decade of the 1920s, the Ukrainian Republic experienced a period of Ukrainiazation. Ukrainian communists enjoyed a great deal of autonomy in running the republic, and Ukrainian culture and language dominated. Stalin's rise to power, however, halted the process of Ukrainiazation. Consequently, Ukrainian intellectual and cultural elites were either executed or deported, and leading Ukrainian party leaders were replaced by non-Ukrainians. About 80% of the UKRAINIAN intelligentsia was massacred.

The peasantry was forcibly collectivized, leading to a mass famine in 1932-33 in which several million peasants starved to death. Pointing to the fact that grain was forcibly requisitioned from the peasantry despite the protests of the Soviet government in the Ukrainian Republic, some historians believe that Stalin knowingly brought about the famine to stop national ferment in the Ukrainian Republic and break the peasants' resistance to collectivization. When western Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union following the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939 {MOLOTOV-RIBBENTROP PACT}, the population suffered terror and mass deportations. About 80% of the UKRAINIAN intelligentsia was liquidated {AGAIN!} {|PRONOUNCED GENOCIDE!} !

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 16, 2010, 9:03 a.m.    

Good article should be read by every Ukrainian, I'm sure many in Ukraine, especially east, don't know this.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 16, 2010, 9:06 a.m.    

Ukrainians survived this, We will survive Yanukovich and his short anti-ukrainia dictatorship.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 17, 2010, 10:34 p.m.    

&gt;&gt; 1920's The kremlin closes or destroys all churches in UKRAINE and kills about 10,000 UKRAINIAN priests.

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 17, 2010, 10:36 p.m.    

&gt;&gt; 1921(?) Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the original Soviet secret police wrote: &quot;Leave the church to the chekisty. Only they, with their specific chekist methods, can control the clerics and undermine the church from within.&quot; That decision began the strange cohabitation of the church and the KGB, with the security agency using the church's authority to influence believers at home and abroad and the KGB using church foreign dioceses as fronts for operations abroad.

Dzerzhinsky himself boasted that: &quot;We represent in ourselves organized terror -- this must be said very clearly.&quot;

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 17, 2010, 10:37 p.m.    

&gt;&gt; 1922 On March 19, 1922 lenin commands – Top Secret For members of -Revolutionaries and the Milyukovites [Left Wing Cadet Party], to fight against us if we, precisely at this time, precisely in connection with the famine, suppress the reactionary clergy with utmost haste and ruthlessness.

The instructions must come down to this, that he must arrest more if possible but not less than several dozen representatives of the local clergy, the local petty bourgeoisie, and the local bourgeoisie on **SUSPICION** of direct or indirect participation in the forcible the Politburo: Now and only now, when people are being eaten in famine-stricken areas, and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses lie on the roads, we can (and therefore must) pursue the removal of church property with the most frenzied and ruthless energy and not hesitate to put down the least opposition.

In addition, it will be more difficult for the major part of our foreign adversaries among the Russian emigres abroad, i.e., the Socialist resistance to the decree of the VTsIK on the removal of property of value from churches. Immediately upon completion of this task, he must return to Moscow and personally deliver a report to the full session of the Politburo or to two specially authorized members of the Politburo.

At this meeting pass a secret resolution of the congress that the removal of property of value, especially from the very richest lauras, monasteries, and churches, must be carried out with ruthless resolution, leaving nothing in doubt, and in the very shortest time. The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and the reactionary bourgeoisie that we succeed in shooting on this occasion, the better because this &quot;audience&quot; must precisely now be taught a lesson in such a way that they will not dare to think about any resistance whatsoever for several decades.

[Translation from the Library of the US Congress]

{# <-- parent id goes here
Anonymous May 17, 2010, 10:42 p.m.    

&gt;&gt; 1926 Ukrainians in Kuban in 1926 (apr. 66% of all population before the Russification campaign took place) Here is a map of the Ukrainians in the Kuban region in 1926:

Why is the Ukrainian population in Kuban under 1% today?

Going along with this attack on the intelligentsia was an offensive against the churches, priests and hierarchy, the “soul” of Ukraine. Between 1926 and 1932, the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church, its Metropolitan (Lypkivsky) and 10,000 clergy were liquidated.

[FAMOUS ESSAY by Rafael Lemkin, New York, NY, 1953 ]

{# <-- parent id goes here


© 1995–2014 Public Media

Web links to Kyiv Post material are allowed provided that they contain a URL hyperlink to the material and a maximum 500-character extract of the story. Otherwise, all materials contained on this site are protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced without the prior written permission of Public Media at
All information of the Interfax-Ukraine news agency placed on this web site is designed for internal use only. Its reproduction or distribution in any form is prohibited without a written permission of Interfax-Ukraine.