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The war in Ukraine makes us realise how fragile our world is

Interview with Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv. Interviewer: Nikodem Szczygłowski.

July 27, 2022 - Andriy Sadovyi Nikodem Szczygłowski - InterviewsUkraineAtWar

Mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadovyi speaks during a meeting with residents of Lviv in 2013. Photo: Bumble Dee / Shutterstock

NIKODEM SZCZYGŁOWSKI: Mayor Sadovyi, the war in Ukraine has lasted almost four months. Although Lviv is some distance from the main hostilities the city also feels its effects. What are the most pressing problems faced by the city at this moment?

ANDRIY SADOVYI: Over five million people came through Lviv in the first hundred days or so. Over two million of them stayed for a shorter or longer time in the city. Most of these people were temporarily displaced. At the moment there are still some 150,000 displaced people in Lviv. Many of them do not have anywhere to return to. These are people from Mariupol, the destroyed districts of Kharkiv and towns that are under Russian occupation. We expect that at least 50,000 of them will settle in Lviv. What does this mean for the city?

Our primary focus should be to do everything in our power so that these people feel at home here – find them a place to live, food and social support. For the 50,000 that will remain in Lviv it will be crucial to add more housing. This means at least another million square metres of apartments. This will come at a cost of some 750 million euros that we would need to locate in order to kick start a mortgage lending program.

We also cannot forget about those who need our help today. Lviv takes in thousands of injured people every day. Today we presented a concept of a new national rehabilitation centre – “Unbroken” and started campaigning for its construction. The goal of this project is social, psychological and physical rehabilitation, and would include prostheses, implants, sports, leisure and apartments for the patients and so forth.

Maintaining order in the city is quite the challenge, but we are doing everything possible so that public transport, waterworks and the power supply remain functional. We are already preparing for the winter fully aware that it will be very difficult this year. We don’t even know if we will have any gas to warm our homes. Naturally, our military is of the greatest concern at this time. The city helps them in everything we can, and at the same time we are still working on the territorial defence of the city.

Before the war Lviv was considered one of the most attractive cities to live in Ukraine and was also famous as one of the largest centres of urban tourism in the country. Today it is functioning as a de facto logistic centre for the entire country. Many different companies have relocated here from the east of the country and goods are stored and distributed to the rest of the country. The proximity of the border to Poland — through which the largest turnover of goods and passenger traffic from Ukraine takes place today — makes Lviv of exceptional importance in the functioning of the country’s economy. How will the city meet this challenge?

Yes, many companies have moved to Lviv from other regions of the country. Many of these have the bravery to begin from scratch. Some of the entrepreneurs have lost everything they had — especially those who came from the parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts controlled by Ukraine before the invasion. An example of how we try to help such companies is our idea to create two urban business parks. We also try to support their activities by creating platforms where experience and networks can be exchanged.

I believe that it is crucial that Ukraine remains economically independent. The world is offering much help for which we are truly grateful, however we should not forget that it is local production and the taxes derived from it that secures jobs, makes the economy more resilient and strengthens our country.

The airport in Lviv was one of the largest in Ukraine in terms of passengers before the war — only Boryspil in the capital had more. Now it is among just a few airports (if not the only one) that is capable of restarting activities when the situation allows. Other regional airfields have been seriously damaged (Kharkiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Dnipro), totally destroyed or occupied (Kherson). At the same time Lviv is still a target for Russian rocket attacks. What other key infrastructure in the city should be protected from attacks? Which areas should be improved?

We have clear plans to build a “European” train connection from the Polish border to Lviv. This would connect us better with Polish cities [Ukraine’s railway uses the Soviet gauge which is wider than that in Europe Ed. note]. It would be the first step in the creation of a great logistical transport hub in Lviv for both cargo and passengers. An important part of this is the aforementioned airport which should work in synergy with the railway.

Speaking of our airport, I’m not entirely sure if there are examples of this in global practice, but I’m convinced that we should be more active at the UN level to get it reopened. We should work with the organisation to improve the transit of the injured or humanitarian aid through the airport. It is an important issue that will require all parties to the process to act to ensure its fulfilment and the safety of the flights.

The Lviv railway station, its surroundings — Dvirtseva Square, the tram lines and Chernivetska Street leading to the station — have recently undergone a thorough reconstruction. In the last two months there have been crowds of refugees from regions engulfed in hostilities. Because of its direct connections with Przemyśl, Lviv has also become a destination for everyone travelling to Ukraine, as there are no flights. The Lviv railway station is also a landmark from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – a relic of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. How does the city cope with the protection of its many monuments in times of war?

The greatest focus is placed on protecting the monuments in our city, which can be seen during a short walk across the centre of the city. You can clearly see how the statues and places of worship have been properly secured. We are fully aware of the fact that this protection is not ideal, as it’s impossible to properly calculate the place and severity of future attacks. But as the saying goes —better safe than sorry.

If we had not carried out the reconstruction of Dvirtseva Square and its immediate surroundings earlier, it is doubtful whether we would be able to meet the challenges of the first days and weeks of the war, when 60,000 people a day passed through the station. We provided help to everyone that came to Lviv before they moved on and we continue to do so. I am also aware of a plan to reconstruct the station building itself, which is of course a historic architectural monument as you mentioned. Indeed, it has been a long time since restoration work has been carried out there, and it now needs to be brought up to the standard of its renovated surroundings. While the Dvirtseva Square was previously in a very bad condition and starkly contrasted with the railway station building, today the situation has changed. It’s good that the railway management fully understands this.

I must note that while developing the “Unbroken” project, the city council has also reviewed infrastructure projects that aim to make public spaces in the city more inclusive. This means that each fragment of public space should be made accessible to people with disabilities, for all the people that need our special care.

Lviv’s topography is awaiting perhaps the biggest changes since Ukraine regained independence, when Soviet streets were renamed. Many names are to be changed. There won’t be any streets celebrating Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Nekrasov, but rather Stanisław Lem, Debora Vogel and Stanisław Ulam. According to many in the city, there has been a lack of public spaces named after significant people connected to the city. How do you view this process?

Many names in the city, which we now consider traditional, appeared in Lviv without any consultation with its inhabitants. We had a period of Soviet occupation, when we were forced to accept culture that we did not like, but we were told that we just had to. Today we have to make conscious decisions aimed at clearly displaying the names of people to whom Lviv owes a lot — from different historical periods and epochs. Thanks to them, the city developed and became better — both in the intellectual sense, in terms of technical progress and in the arts. Personally, I respect many people from all over the world who had some kind of bond with Lviv or who in some way influenced the development of the city’s community at some stage of their lives.

As for decisions on street names, we will mostly rely on the inhabitants of Lviv. There are opinion polls conducted regarding a certain number of streets that are first in line to be changed. I am confident that a majority of the people you mentioned will be properly commemorated in our city.

Your tweet about the unveiling of sculptures of lions at the Łyczakowski cemetery next to the pantheon, where Polish participants of Polish-Ukrainian battles for the city in November 1918 are buried, was met with great approval in Poland. Lviv has for many years been a litmus test for Polish-Ukrainian relations. Did we really need a war and Russian aggression for mutual attitudes to change between Poles and Ukrainians? Has anything really changed in this respect?

I think that we understand each other better today. Russia has done much to stir tensions between us over the years, including by sending many agents to both sides. The unveiling of the lions at the Łyczakowski cemetery was well received not only in Poland, but Ukraine as well. If this had taken place before the war it would most likely have led to discussions where it’s highly probable that the earlier mentioned third force would get involved. Today they are rather quiet. I can only repeat what I said in my tweet: During times of war, it is the duty of every lion to defend the independence of both Poland and Ukraine. Long live Poland! Glory to Ukraine!

I am convinced that we are currently laying the foundations of our future coexistence and new alliance. Together we both understand – as few do – what Russia really is. We should of course include the Lithuanians, mention the British and anyone who is ready to fight and make sacrifices in the defence of our values, namely, to be free people in a free country regardless of the circumstances.

Source: Andriy Sadovyi on Twitter.

On May 20, 2022, sculptures of lions were unveiled at the Polish military cemetery in Lviv. The mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, announced it on his Facebook profile: “In history, there have been many different periods for Ukrainians and Poles. The graves of our ancestors on both sides of the border witnessed conflicts and mutual harm. And although these are old cases, they often stood in the way of mutual understanding. Our common enemy also used these pages of history effectively. This war showed who is the friend and who is the enemy. Let these lions in the Polish military cemetery in Lviv, which were once the subject of controversy and were covered up, be a step towards the ultimate mutual forgiveness of past wrongs. Long live Poland! Glory to Ukraine! ”. According to Lilia Onyszczenko, head of the Department of Historical Heritage Protection of the Lviv City Office, the sculptures are being prepared for renovation.

During the last visit of President Andrzej Duda to Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree granting the status of a “rescuer city”, which was awarded to Rzeszów as the first city in Poland. Is the support of Polish cities visible from the perspective of Lviv?

So far, no one has demonstrated the complete support provided to Ukrainians as that given by Polish cities. It is nice that I have the opportunity to thank every mayor and town council head from every Polish town or community for everything that has been done, what they are doing and what they still plan to do. Lviv is currently a sister and partner city with 12 Polish ones. It is possible that this number will grow further. I have the same sympathy for all these cities. Each of them did the impossible. I could never have imagined how huge the scale of support would be. I even think that Polish society itself is impressed by the depth of the help and support that has been given to us.

I must point out that among all Polish local governments, companies, NGOs and ordinary citizens who declared their willingness to help and offered it to us, no one expected to receive anything in return, even as a simple token of gratitude. Everyone understood it as something completely normal, natural, just like when you go to church, for example, you dedicate what is due to God. This is the time we are living in. For example, the Mayor of Przemyśl Wojciech Bakun was one of the first to come to Lviv in person just after the missile strikes on a town near the Polish border [March 13 — ed. N.S.]. The explosions were louder in Przemyśl than in Lviv. The visit of the mayor of Przemyśl to Lviv was a breakthrough in the thinking of many, perhaps it was then that Poles realised that the war was not really going on far to the east but was right on their doorstep.

I am convinced that this barrage also made President Joe Biden change his travel plans. His visit to Poland had a symbolic dimension as it was important to show solidarity and reassure the Poles. I also think that it allowed us to better understand how fragile our world is now, how easy it is to destroy much of it. Today the Ukrainians have taken the main blow — Poles and Lithuanians understand this perfectly well, they realise that they may be next in line, as long as the Ukrainians do not stop this attack now. Thus, they support Ukraine in a very significant way, which in turn motivates the US and the rest of the world to act. However, we should all realise that Russia is a problem for the long-term — it is not even about the next hundred days. Therefore, we should all preserve our strength.

This interview was conducted in June 2022.

Translated by Daniel Gleichgewicht

Andriy Sadovyi has been the mayor of Lviv since 2006

Nikodem Szczygłowski is a traveller, writer and reporter. He studied Mediterranean archeology at the University of Łódź and at CEMI in Prague. He is fluent in Lithuanian and Slovenian. He received an award from the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture for his publications in 2020.

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