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Wind of Change
Helha oliynyk, a native of lviv who moved to live in great britain three years ago, looks at the changes during preparations that lviv is going through to host euro 2012 football championship.
In 2012 Lviv is preparing to welcome participants and spectators of the European Football Championship. How the event of this scale would impact the present and the future of the city? What are the positive and negative sides of hosting the Championship? The responsibility falls not only on the city and its governance but on each of its citizens irrespective of their occupation, class or even desire to participate. Are they prepared for such a major event in their living history? Can they prove their strengths and ability to improve?
I had a chance to observe the changes in my native Lviv by comparing trends between the moment just before the announcement of hosting the Championship and one year later, covering nearly one year of the preparations. Being absent from Lviv during this year helped to realise the magnitude of the changes. They are apparent in all aspects of city life and even in the mood of the people. With only a year remaining the preparations are now in full swing. People are inspired — Lviv is finally very tangibly in the spotlight of Europe. This time — as a host of major international sporting event!
Most obviously the entire city’s road network is being completely revamped. While road conditions had been a national joke and tragedy for decades, main routes and some side roads are now being stripped and resurfaced, historic cobblestone streets meticulously restored, tramways upgraded. It seems that the infrastructure improvement goes deeper than the surface, drivability and traffic management has been somewhat improved as well. Hopefully the works could be finished in time.
Leaving many controversies in the past the city managed to acquire international street name plates. The effect was overwhelming, combining style with clarity for traveller’s enjoyment. Other practical additions to the streets — location maps scattered around many central sites, made to the best of international examples, and direction pointers for main tourist attractions — all done with English translations are as good as they are in most big tourist centres, apart from maybe missing city symbol or the coat of arms at the top of the post, a lion figure would be most appropriate for Lviv.
As in most developing countries the connectivity is progressing very fast. Internet and IP-telephony is abundant, although not ubiquitous but very reasonably priced. Complementary Wi-Fi in cafes and restaurants has just made the entrance, as did internet shopping, banking, ebay and paypal, though mostly hampered by, what used to be, an extremely unreliable postal service. Yes, now you can find most transport timetables online, and hopefully pretty soon you will be able to book train tickets through the web.
By the championships beginning another major development is expected — a low cost airline flights will be renewed to the renovated and enlarged Lviv airport.
Improvements in the infrastructure are especially beneficial for development of tourism which accelerated in giant leaps recently. The business is booming: new travel agencies, hotels, restaurants and clubs appear all the time. Lviv acquired an additional Tourist Information Office where helpful staff will advise and inform the visitors. Until recently there were no hostels in the budget price range in Lviv, now there are several which already managed to impress the reviewers: “clean, cheap and right in the middle of the city centre”.
Lviv is traditionally famous in Ukraine and beyond for its theatre stages. But even during the theatre season summer break the city can offer visitors many other interesting events. Plenty of art exhibitions in the city’s many galleries are held. Cafe Dzyha always pleases with several frequently changing photo exhibitions and live jazz evenings. Pleasant surprise was the much improved organisation and quality of the festive open air concerts, that are free to attend, yet able to cope with a massively increased numbers of audience drawn by most popular Ukrainian rock and folk performers. A free and open Etnovyr Festival of folk music and dance during four summer evenings attracted thousands of people. The performers included famous folk bands from European and African countries. Another bright example was a Food Festival Market with a spectacular variety of foods and drinks on sale by the representatives of many European cuisines.
Coffee and cafes
In Ukraine Lviv is particularly famous for the quality of its coffee. The city has historically had plenty of cafes of every style and taste that served quality coffees. After all, coffee was introduced to Europe by a native of Lviv region, Yuriy Ferenz Kulczycki who opened the first cafe in Europe in Vienna in 1686. With a true Ukrainian resourcefulness to set up his enterprise he used the bags of coffee abandoned after the failed siege of Vienna by the escaping Ottoman army. Many new establishments open their doors attempting to grab attention with their unique styles and themes. The House of the Gasoline Lamp, Leo Masoh’s Cafe, Jewish cafe Under the Golden Rose — each are a memorable visit and offer not only the best quality of coffee but a variety of tasty bites. One of the bright new additions, The House of Legends (Dim Lehend) is a seven-storey 16th century residential building converted into a themed coffee house and restaurant with exhibitions dedicated to Lviv’s defining architectural and cultural features: cobblestones, lions, clocks, books, underground river, chimneysweepers, tramways, etc. The face of the building is adorned with a 5 meter sculpture of a dragon that breathes fire at 9.23 pm every evening.
People have also somehow changed. There is more helpfulness and politeness on the streets. Foreign tourists who get lost wandering Lviv’s medieval streets will be helped and directed just as in any European city. This change is especially noticeable in the employees of the transport infrastructure; perhaps they are now better paid.
Although most of the Ukrainians are very well meaning and friendly, the absence of smiles on the faces of most of them is striking. Life in Ukraine for many is still a struggle for survival — that’s how I explain to myself the fact that people don’t smile as much as in western countries. They rarely reply with a smile, often treat a smiling person with surprise or suspicion. But even this is slowly changing; maybe the living standards are a limiting factor here.
Changes that are urgently needed and most likely be required by foreign visitors, are separation of smoking and non-smoking environments, that is often absent in Lviv’s entertainment and food serving establishments. Cigarettes are viewed as a source of revenue by the authorities and smoking is considered cool by the young people, but understanding that cigarette smoking is dangerous for health is coming — but slowly. Now it's forbidden for the bus drivers to smoke while driving, which is not the case for the taxi drivers yet.
Lviv had always been a very special and atmospheric city, one of the “must visit” in Eastern Europe. The hosting of the 2012 Euro Cup is both a push for much overdue structural changes, and an opportunity to be noticed by wider Western European population. Hopefully the city would be able to preserve its character and simultaneously realise its full potential as a cultural hub and one of the gems for European tourism.
For me Lviv is always beautiful, always welcoming and will remain the best place in the world.