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You're reading: The prison on Lonts’kyi Street: Memory dialogue or memory monologue?

Although its address is telling – 1 Stepan Bandera St – the museum is in fact hidden away on a side street, as though trying to avoid awkward encounters. Its entrance is nondescript, marked only by a modest sign. The building has clearly undergone little in the way of renovation since it ceased to function as a prison in 1991. Visitors walk its grim corridors, where peeling, yellowed signs inform prisoners how to behave. The exhibition, which aims to tell the story both of the prison and of the Ukrainian nationalist activists who suffered there, is threaded through the corridors, incorporating some of the prison’s original cells.

The museum represents the suffering and struggles of Ukrainians. The exhibition barely mentions the word ‘Jew’, while Poles appear, in a historically dubious comparison, only as one side of a triangle of evil ‘occupiers’ alongside the Nazis and the Soviets. The prison was indeed used by different regimes, including the Poles and Austrians. But the nature and legitimacy of these regimes varied drastically. The museum presents all these regimes, except the Austrians, as perpetrators of crimes against Ukrainians. It does not recognize that the victims of the crimes carried out here were also plural, and included Jews, Poles, and others. What’s more, the exhibition ignores other perpetrators linked to the site, skating over the question of Ukrainian participation in the L’viv pogrom of 1941.

Lonts’kyi not only denies the memories of others, however: it simplifies that of Ukrainians too. It ignores the complexity of Ukrainian society of pre-war and wartime L’viv and of Ukrainian nationalism. The tradition of fighting for the right of Ukrainians to political and cultural self-determination is bigger than the history of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN/UPA), which dominates the museum. That wider story includes those dissidents whose pictures grace the walls of the prison in which they were once held, or whose works are sold at the doorway, and who cannot be simply absorbed into the ‘Liberation Struggles’ understood as a metonym for the OUN/UPA.

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