Lemberg, Lviv, Lyov, and Lwów

From the “Note to Reader” in East West Street:

The city of Lviv occupies an important place in this story. Through the nineteenth century, it was generally known as Lemberg, located on the eastern outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soon after World War I, it became part of newly independent Poland, called Lwów, until the outbreak of World War I, when it was occupied by the Soviets, who knew it as Lyov. In July 1941, the Germans unexpectedly conquered the city and made it the capital of Distrikt Galizien in the General Government, known once more as Lemberg. After the Red Army vanquished the Nazis in the summer of 1944, it became part of Ukraine and was called Lviv, the name that is generally used today. Exceptionally, if you fly to the city from Munich, the airport screens identify the destination as Lemberg.

Lemberg, Lviv, Lyov, and Lwów are the same place. The name has changed, as has the composition and nationality of its inhabitants, but the location and the buildings have remained. This is even as the city changed hands, no fewer than eight times in the years between 1914 and 1945.

The city is again at the heart of geopolitics, reports The Economist:

When Russia’s president sends 190,000 troops to invade your country, which he refers to as “historically Russian lands”, one logical place of retreat stands out. That is Lviv, a city that was Polish from 1918 to 1939 and part of other central European states before that. It is a place of baroque buildings, art academies and fiercely anti-Russian sentiment. Its location, in the far west of the country, could make it the last place in Ukraine that Russia tries to conquer. That makes it appealing not just for those fleeing the rest of the country, but also for those eyeing up a potential seat for Ukraine’s government if Vladimir Putin’s forces manage to seize the capital, Kyiv.

Lviv is four hours drive north of my Ukrainian family’s home place in Serafyntsi (Серафинці).

Here’s what morning sounds like in Serafyntsi—and, for that matter, in much of rural Ukraine, when left to its own devices.

My heart is with my family there, and with all peace-loving Ukrainians.


Jeremy's picture
Jeremy on February 28, 2022 - 05:00 Permalink

I so enjoyed East West Street, for all kinds of reasons, and hope that these times are not too trying for you and your family. It also kindled an interest in Nuremberg and the trials. If you're interested in that too, then BBC Sounds has an interesting dramatisation that I am currently listening to.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on March 2, 2022 - 04:01 Permalink

And acc to Wikipedia the 13th c. original version of this city’s name, which is after one Ruthenian king Leo, is transliterated “Lvihorod”

Jarek's picture
Jarek on March 3, 2022 - 16:55 Permalink

"Exceptionally, if you fly to the city from Munich, the airport screens identify the destination as Lemberg."

This is a bit of a strange thing for Philippe Sands or the book's editor to write. Airport screens generally use the name used in the language used in the departing airport as one of the names displayed. When you fly to München, airport screens in Canada identify the destination as Munich, and in Poland as Monachium.

Similarly: "Through the nineteenth century, it was generally known as Lemberg..." - maybe on a map and by the government that controlled it, but not locally by its then-majority Polish-speaking-inhabitants.

There's probably an interesting theory or two to be made about a British author's fascination places having different names in different languages. Especially in central Europe, control over places has historically changed many times and different names have been used frequently, something that the English aren't really used to at home (but non-English Brits might be).

And as for the Economist's suggestion, moving the capital to Lviv would give excellent propaganda fodder to Russian government to defame the rump state as "un-Ukrainian" or "pro-Western" or "Polish-dominated" to try to influence Ukrainians living in the occupied territory.

Ruth Radetsky's picture
Ruth Radetsky on March 3, 2022 - 21:09 Permalink

Hi, Peter.
You may not remember me, but my husband, Edward Hasbrouck and I had dinner with you, Catherine, and Oliver in Utrecht in the summer of 2014. Edward just sent me links to all your writing about Ukraine, and I wanted to share a bit of my own relationship with Ukraine.

My grandmother was born in Skvera, a village not far from Belya Tserkov, about 100 km from Kiev. Her father left before she was born to avoid being drafted into the tsar's army. 2 years later, my great grandmother walked across Europe to Rotterdam with my grandmother a babe-in-arms to come to Brooklyn, in the US. My grandfather was a distant cousin from the same area, but I know less about his story.

My grandmother spoke English and Yiddish, not Ukrainian or Russian, and identified as Jewish, not Ukrainian. I identified as half German, half Eastern European Jewish, not half Ukrainian.

Then in the summer of 1992, Edward and I flew from San Francisco to Khabarovsk with a Soviet flag on the tail of of our plane, and returned from Moscow with the Russian flag on the tail of the plane. We got visas for our whole trip from the Soviet Consulate before we left, but got our passport stamped on arrival in Tashkent, and needed to get a visa on arrival at the airport in Kyiv.

The whole trip was fascinating. We met a variety of friends of friends and former apparatchniks trying to make their fortunes. Aside from an excursion to Skvera, the most interesting part of the trip was our time in Kyiv, where we stayed with the mother of one of Edward's travel agent colleagues, a university English professor. Kira was a warm, welcoming, interesting woman, who made us extraordinarily welcome in her large (four roooms), comfortable apartment near the very center of Kyiv.

One evening she had a dinner party with us and some of her English professor colleagues. Conversation was easy and wide ranging, and I felt more at home than I had felt outside my family. It wasn't till after dinner that I realized why.

I've gotten shit for my conversational style for decades. In feminist circles, it was too male. Among Californians, it was too East Coast. And at one spectacularly inappropriate job review, it was too Jewish. I don't leave a lot of wait time, or really, any wait time. I'm comfortable with people speaking on top of each other. If you have an idea, you share it, immediately. That's how the women in that conversation were speaking! I wasn't too male, too East Coast, or too Jewish. I was Ukrainian!

I try to be connected to the world, but I'm human. I feel tragedies in my gut, not just my intellect, when they happen in places I've been. Civil war in Syria, where I spent three weeks, hits harder than civil war in Myanmar, where I've never been. Israeli atrocities in Palestine, done partly in my name, hit harder than Serbian atrocities in Bosnia. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the attack on Kyiv, is more frightening than any war in my lifetime, and that is before we start thinking about a cornered dictator with nuclear weapons.

Lucio Saverio-Eastman's picture
Lucio Saverio-E... on March 13, 2022 - 10:11 Permalink

Peter, as you already know from our conversations about travel, I had planned a trip to Ukraine as far back as 2017. My untoward and disdainful opinions against governments and war have been rekindled and fanned into a roaring pyre. I am saddened and angered by the loss of life, connection, sense of history, place, and property.

The Russian people as well as the Ukrainian people...and not only them, but all peaceful individuals in all places deserve better.

Despite the direction the world is currently veering, I'll continue to put my efforts and focus into organic systems of governance and law, and away from systems that place people in positions of arbitrary and unchecked power.

Yes, you heard that from a market anarchist! Also, have you seen my new NH license plates? "ANARKOS" ;)