LVIV – The battle over Lviv’s architectural and archeological heritage is being waged on historic Fedorova Street, just off the city’s main square.
The heart of the old Jewish quarter has become the latest focal point in the all-out war over the protection of the city’s heritage. The area – with its unique synagogues – was largely destroyed by the Nazis in World War II and stood empty until a private developer got hold of it.
Here, on a cold winter day a crane hummed until recently, and workmen milled about despite a local court order to halt construction of a hotel on its site.
With a couple of lawsuits by a religious group pending, the plot’s future is still unclear.
Throughout Ukraine, the country’s architectural and archeological heritage is in distress. The decay of Lviv’s cultural heritage, however, has taken on particular resonance in recent months. Not only is the city a UNESCO world heritage site, and thus any construction must follow strict guidelines and be carefully monitored, it is Ukraine’s architectural gem.
Lviv has steadily gained the reputation as a must-see Eastern European travel destination. Any shoddy development that changes the face of Lviv dampens not only tourist enthusiasm as it competes with places like Krakow and Prague, where millions of dollars have been spent in restoration efforts, but the city coffers tourism fills as well.
We’ve lost the city of the Middle Ages.”
- Oksana Boyko, architect.
Architects, however, said damage has already been done through unsanctioned and unprofessional construction.
“We’ve lost the city of the Middle Ages,” said architect Oksana Boyko. She has written extensively about the buildings that once graced the Jewish quarter, which included the city’s famed Golden Rose and Great City Synagogue. Another building housed a yeshiva, a school for boys and dated back to the 16th century. It lay in ruins for decades.
In a competition bid that some question, a Kyiv-based investment firm eventually ended up with the section to build a hotel complex under a 49-year lease for the land.
To date, the firm has already spent $180,000 on archeological digs, said Ihor Gyske, the project’s commercial director. It is a sizable sum and more than other investors spend for similar works, most specialists agreed.
Still, architects and archeologists are concerned about the fates of the remains of unique 15th and 16th century artisan buildings which were uncovered during the archeological digs, and a Jewish religious bath house, called a mikva, that borders the construction site.
They are also worried about a large crack that was discovered in an adjacent building. An emergency commission in Lviv has concluded that the crack was partially to blame for the construction, with an old sewage system and the age of the building itself contributing as well.
Lviv has been hailed for its multiple layers of architecture that reflect the many political powers and ethnic groups, which for centuries breathed life into the city. Yet throughout Lviv, centuries-old buildings are being threatened as too-often unsanctioned reconstruction takes place to make way for cafes and stores, sometimes owned by powerful people. Age-old historic wooden windows are being replaced with white plastic, while architectural details – vines, stars, cherubs and even substantial doors – are being lost through inexperienced laborers.
Lviv is not Kyiv.”
- Liliya Onyshenko, head of the department for the preservation of the city’s historic surroundings.
City officials who oversee the construction of buildings said concern over perceived ruination is sometimes overblown and that Lviv has been blamed for deconstructed buildings, which were not under its jurisdiction.
“Lviv is not Kyiv,” said Liliya Onyshenko who heads the department for the preservation of the city’s historic surroundings. She said Lviv has been “left alone with itself” to manage and preserve the buildings that sit on the 130 hectares of land that comprise Lviv’s UNESCO site.
“For two years, we’ve gotten no money from the state budget,” she said, although it is the government’s responsibility to fund Ukraine’s UNESCO sites. “The state doesn’t really care.”
Archeologists decry the fate of the delicate 19th century St. Sophia school, which was torn down to make way for the overbearing Polish consulate and look with horror at a bank built in the city center in the Soviet realist style. In regards to Fedorova Street, they said digs should be conducted on the entire plot, rather just a section, and that the underground architecture should be incorporated into the hotel. In addition, they mourn the virtual demolition of the building that housed the yeshiva, of which only the facade is left.
“Lviv is known in the world not because of hotels but because of its common cultural heritage,” said Meylakh Sheykhet, who heads Lviv’s Jewish community. Sheykhet is part of a group that filed several lawsuits to stop construction of the hotel.
Lviv is known in the world not because of hotels but because of its common cultural heritage.”
- Meylakh Sheykhet, who heads Lviv’s Jewish community.
Gyske said his group has tried to reach out to Sheykhet but to no avail.
He also dismissed widespread rumors that an underground parking garage was planned for the hotel, a move that would destroy the underground architectural planning and could threaten the structural soundness of neighboring buildings.
As for the deconstructed building that housed the yeshiva, Onyshenko said “it was in a wrecked state.” By law, however, that building should be reconstructed to its original form.
The city council admits to feeling trepidation over the Fedorova Street site as well as others in the city. Without “construction police” to monitor the progress of approved projects, investors don’t necessarily understand the city’s uniqueness, said Onyshenko. Making matters worse is that companies and individuals who want to build in Lviv will often bypass local authorizes and obtain permission to construct from ministries in Kyiv, thus tying the hands of the municipality.
“They don’t identify with Lviv,” Onyshenko, who favors a moratorium on construction in Lviv, said.
Kyiv Post staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.