JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH OLENA DVORKINA FROM LVIV, UKRAINE !
Olena Dvorkina was born in the south of Ukraine, in Kherson and moved to Lviv in the year 2014. She immediately fell in love with its beautiful architecture and interesting history and soon started exploring it. As a result of it she became a licensed tour guide. Two years ago because of Covid 19 she organised live virtual tours to show people her city. Now she serves both as an online and offline tour guide.
Lviv is the seventh largest city and the cultural capital of Ukraine. A city in western Ukraine, Lviv lies around seventy kilometers from the border of Poland. The capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, lies about 5 hours by train to the east of Lviv.
Named after the son Lev of Daniel of Galicia, King of Ruthenia, who is often considered as the legit founder of Lviv. Founded in the year 1256, Lviv has been a part of eight governments in the past – the Galician-Volyn principality, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the ZUUR, the USSR, the totalitarian fascist regime, and as part of modern Ukraine. A charming city with narrow medieval streets city, Lviv has 104 churches from various religious communities: Jews, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Orthodox and others.
The medieval city of Lviv was at the foothills of the High Castle (the city’s highest point) on the banks of the river Poltva. In the 13th century, the river was used to transport goods between Lviv and Poland. Due to lack of space, in the early 20th century, the Poltva had to be covered. For the first time this kind of technology was used in Europe. Now the river flows directly beneath Lviv’s central street, Freedom Avenue (Prospect Svobody), and the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The city of Lviv also has one of the leading IT-centers not only of Ukraine, but also of Eastern Europe as a whole.
Ukraine is currently facing its worst humanitarian crisis with locals taking refuge in neighbouring countries. What do Ukrainians think about the war and how much were you affected?
This war started in 2014 with annexation of Crimea and war in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. We think all Russians are guilty and responsible, not just the Putin regime. Belarus too because a lot of attacks are from their country.
I was affected in 2015, when my husband was mobilized into army to fight in Luhansk region. In 2016 he returned just one month before our son was born. Our life was calm and happy, we raised a child and had a work we both liked. Russia likes to call us NAZIS (especially people from the west of Ukraine), they say we have forbidden the Russian language, etc. but we both (me and my husband) can speak Russian, as well as our son. A lot of my guests also spoke Russian in Lviv. I have served guests from Israel, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Kazakhstan and even Russia. There was no discrimination.
On the 24th of February I woke up because of a phone call from my aunt. She said the war had started. And I began receiving messages from my friends. I immediately called my mom. I looked out of the window and checked my son was in his bed. My husband was drinking coffee in the kitchen, he hadn’t checked the news yet. I was crying and then the siren started. We woke up our five year old with the words ‘WAR, WE NEED TO GO TO THE DUNGEON’. We left Ukraine almost 4 months ago to let my husband to join Ukrainians forces and not worry about us. Every day our son asks about his dad and says he want come back to Lviv.
I am a still a tour guide, but virtually. With the help of Heygo and BeamZ I can tell people all over the world about Lviv, about Ukraine, the city I so fondly love.
Please tell us how much Lviv has been impacted by the ongoing war?
Lviv wasn’t attacked as much as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Mykolaiv and a lot of Ukrainian cities on the East and South. But it was.
Unfortunately, people are learning to live with sirens, military checkpoints and curfew. For example kindergartens are open, but just the ones which have bomb shelters. Children have to put badges with their blood type. Our city has turned into an important ‘refugees hub’. A lot of Ukrainians have been going through Lviv to Europe and a lot of them have decided to stay put in Lviv. Hence there was a shortage of space and a huge problem with apartments. Now the situation looks better.
40% of all architectural heritage of Ukraine is located in Lviv and Lviv region. So it is really important for us to save it. Stained-glass windows have been covered with metal and wooden plates, sculptures have been wrapped in special fabrics, there are scaffoldings in the whole of Lviv. We are scanning our monuments and making 3d models in case of future distractions.
The most terrible thing is funerals. All the time. Sometimes 3,4 or 5 funerals per day. Our friends, our friend’s friends. We are learning to live with it.
Being architecturally and historically rich, Lviv is the cultural capital of Ukraine. What are the five must visit attractions in the city that tourists must visit?
Lviv is UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, so it is really hard to choose just five locations, but I’ll give it a shot.
Rynok Square : It is the heart of Medieval Lviv. Full of museums, old palaces, cafes and restaurants. It is definitely the best place to feel atmosphere of the old city. On the perimeter of Rynok Square, there are forty-three houses of different styles and historical periods while in the center is “Ratusha”, also called the Lviv City Hall. Around the main municipal building, there are 4 fountains with statues of ancient gods: Adonis, Diana, Neptune, and Amphitrite.
Opera and Ballet theatre : This theatre is a symbol of Austria-Hungary period. It was built in 1900 on the place of Poltva river. Polish architect mixed here Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque styles. River Poltva which was artificially hidden underground in a specially equipped sarcophagus, can be seen in the basement of the opera house.
Note : Lviv National Opera was forced to close its doors on February 24, 2022 when Russia launched an unprovoked and violent assault on Ukraine but is now open with its residents trying to reclaim a sense of normalcy.
Potocki Palace : The Potocki Palace in Lviv was built as an urban seat of Alfred Józef Potocki, former Minister-President of Austria and an ancient and noble Polish aristocratic family. It was built in the end of the 19th century as a residence of the Potocki family. An elegant building, whose luxurious forms reminds of French castles. Today Potocki Palace is occupied by the Lviv Art Gallery. It houses expositions of European painting dated to the 14th -18th centuries.
St.George’s Cathedral : It is not just an amazing masterpiece of baroque architecture. This cathedral is a spiritual soul of Lviv. Built in the end of 18th century with the help of well-known Sheptytsky family, St.George’s Cathedral was the main Greek Catholic church in Ukraine till 2005. The greatest treasure of the temple is a miraculous icon of the Mother of God from Terebovly. The cathedral’s crypt contains graves of famous Ukrainian cardinals and metropolitans (Andrew Sheptysky and Josyf Slipyj).
High Castle : It is the best place in Lviv for sunrise and sunset. The name of this park is associated with an ancient castle that was on the top of the hill 200 years ago. Nowadays it is a name of the beautiful park and observation platform.
When in Lviv, how to get around Lviv?
Lviv is really compact and in the most cases you can use tram or just walk. Public transport of Lviv consists of trams, trolleybuses, buses and minibuses called marshrutkas.
There is a conductor-free system in marshrutkas and buses. We are required to directly pay the driver. For the time being, payment can be made in cash. The fare is 10 UAH (might change).
To travel in a tram or trolleybus you need to buy a ticket. After purchasing it, we need to validate it as there can be the controllers on the route. There are mechanical validators on the walls inside the trams and trolleybuses. Each of them has a unique imprint that remains on the ticket – without it the ticket is considered invalid! Ticket can be bought in any of the following ways –
- Directly from the driver in cash.
- In EasyPay machines that are often located near the stops. Just find the section “Lvivelectrotrans”, choose the ticket you need and pay in cash.
- In Lviv Tourist Information Centers at the airport and on 1 Rynok Square, where you can pay only by card.
There are also night buses and an express bus from Lviv International Airport to Railway Station but during COVID 19 it was temporarily suspended. Please double check the availability before planning your day.
Note : You can buy tickets or learn about tourist passes from this website. The cost of a transfer ticket that lasts 90 min is 12 UAH. It can be purchased in the EasyPay terminals. The payment for luggage (40x60x20 cm) is 10 UAH. The fine for traveling without a ticket is 200 UAH.
Would you recommend renting a car or public transport does the job?
To use a car in Lviv is always a bad idea. Old city (Rynok Sq. and old neighbourhoods) is closed for private cars, streets are really narrow and there is a huge problem with parking.
If you don’t like public transport you can use Uber, Uklon or Bolt.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Lviv?
There are two most popular day trips from Lviv.
My favorite one is Lviv region castles – Olesko, Pidhirtsi, Zolochiv. Every day you can visit unique historical places. It is a mixture of nature, architectural and cultural heritage. All of them are located not far from Lviv, so you can rent a car or join a special one-day trip with a group. Don’t hesitate to take a picnic basket and have a lunch on the territory of Pidhirtsy castle. This location is very popular for love story photo sessions.
For nature lovers I can recommend Tustan. It is a medieval rock fortress on Carpathian Mountains, which played an important role in the past. It used to be a customs office of the Salt Road. Climbing the cliffs, you will be amazed by the beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.
You also can go to the waterfall on the river Kamenka and to the Zuravlinove Lake not far away from waterfall. This mountain lake is also called the Dead Lake. Because of the high content of hydrogen sulfide in the water there is no fish. Late Spring, Summer and early Fall period is the best time to visit this location.
What is the local produce and cuisine of Lviv?
For the recent years Lviv has turned into a place for the best gastro trips in Eastern Europe. Our city was a home for different nations for more than 700 years. And all of them impacted the local cuisine.
I highly recommend to try lvivskiy sirnik (local cheesecake), sirnichki (cheese pancakes), andrut (waffle cake), local craft beer, local cheese, fruit and herb liquors, borsh, yavorivskiy pie (with potatoes and buckwheat), all dishes with pork, baked trout.
What do we produce? We produce beer, liquors, cheese (cow, goat and sheep cheese), chocolate, sausages.
Which places would you suggest for trying authentic Ukrainian cuisine?
Places I recommend are Kryivka, Baczewski Restaurant, Pravda Beer Theatre (Rynok Square), Kumpel, Trapezna Idey, Grand Cafe Leopolis, Cukiernia, Fortuna Nova, Atlas, Meat and Justice, Pstruh Khlib Ta Vyno, Kafejerusalem, Pretty High Kitchen.
Where should one head for shopping in Lviv? Are there any weekend/night/flea markets which tourists must visit?
City centre is full with small local shops: perfumes, candles, shoes, clothes, jewellery.
There are two flea markets: Vernisage (next to Opera House) and on Pidvalna Street (near Fedorovich monument). Here you can buy some antiques, paintings, old books.
Several times per month we have Tlum and Cram market. Usually it looks like Garage sale. So you can find here whatever you want, from shoes to home furniture.
I highly recommend to visit shops with traditional embroidery shirts and Ukrainian jewellery – Boriychuk, Roksolyana Shymchuk, Folkshirt
Lviv hosts various events/festivals annually. Which are the most significant events which tourists must witness?
Actually, Lviv hosts 48 festivals per year! I think it is the largest number in Ukraine. So, we can definitely say that Lviv is “a moveable fest”. My Top 5 events are –
Leopolis Jazz : It is an international open year festival in the end of June. ‘Guardian’ included it in the list of the best European festivals. Hundred of world classic musicians, jazz and autograph sessions, a lot of street music and good vibe are waiting for you.
Craft Beer and Vinyl Music Festival : one of the newest festivals. Usually takes place twice a year (May and September) on the territory of Fest Republic. The goal of the festival is to gather home brewers all over Ukraine and complete it with delicious food and good music.
Christmas Festival : Have you ever heard that we celebrate Xmas twice in Ukraine: on the 25th of December and then on the 7th of January? The biggest part of Lviv citizens celebrate Xmas on the 7th of January. Starting from that moment a lot of small festivals and events take place: Flash of the Xmas star, Donut’s Festival, Xmas in Shevchenkivskiy Hay, traditional Xmas Markets. Performances are played on the streets, people are singing carols and glorifying the birth of Jesus. All the celebrations finish by the 19th-20th of January.
Coffee Festival : It is an annual autumn holiday. Lviv coffee history is dating back to the 18th -19th centuries when first coffee houses were open here. And now Lviv is a coffee capital of Ukraine. Cozy cafes offer an extremely large selection of delicious desserts and a variety of coffee drinks. So, with the help of guests and locals we have chosen the best coffee house of the year. Two leaders in this competition were : Svit Kavy, Virmenka
Lviv Book Forum : It is held in Lviv each September since 1994. It is not just the biggest book fair in Ukraine, but it is one of the largest of its kind in Eastern Europe. Literary events and contests, presentations of publishing houses and authors, meetings with authors, literary readings, autograph sessions, discussions, round-table meetings, and performances are waiting for you.
Would you suggest any heritage shows in Lviv to drama, music or art lovers?
There are now regular shows I can recommend. They are changing from season to season. The best way to know about them is to check official page of Lviv touristic center: https://lviv.travel/en/events
As a local would you give any suggestions/tips to tourists visiting Lviv once peace is restored?
Actually quite a few :
- Be ready for the rain and don’t forget to check weather forecast. Weather in Lviv is really changeable, so don’t forget sunglasses too.
- Only wear comfortable shoes without heels. There are a lot of cobblestones and stairs.
- Usually, November and February are the calmest months. And May, June, August and the January are the most crowded.
- To understand Lviv you have to know it. If you don’t like city tours, you can use online guide Lviv Guide App.
- Start you morning with breakfast in Grand Café Leopolis and coffee in Svit Kavy. And then climb on the top of our City Hall to see panoramic view.
- Lviv churches are masterpieces. Especially Armenian cathedral and Garrison Church. Those are my favorites.
- There are a lot of non-touristic places and neighborhoods. If you have time do explore them.
- Lviv citizens are never in a hurry. Be like them, don’t run, drink coffee and enjoy.
THINGS TO KNOW
How to Reach Lviv : Located just a 20 minute taxi ride from the city center, Lviv is serviced by King Danylo Halytsky International Airport. It’s quite easy and cheap to fly into this airport from many major terminals all over Europe. Lviv also has a major train terminal. It’s especially easy to take one of the many daily trains from Kyiv, Odesa, or other cities in Ukraine. However there are also trains coming from Austria, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.
How to Get Around in Lviv : There are plenty of cheap buses that go to the city center from both the airport and the train station. However, Lviv is a cheap city and a taxi from either place averages about $2. If you have luggage then this is the most convenient way to get to your accommodations. Uber works in Lviv so just plug your address into the app and away you go.
Lviv is a very walkable city. No matter where you stay, it’s probable that you can walk to most of the popular sights. A taxi anywhere in the city will be less than $2. Just hop on the train/tram/bus and pay 7 UAH ($0.30).
Also if you have a Lviv City Card, you can use trams and trolleybuses for free – and this is just one of many benefits of a tourist card. The network of tram and trolleybus routes connects both Lviv railway station and airport with the city center as well as allows you to explore the remote tourist attractions. You can buy Lviv City Card for 24, 48 and 72 hours at Tourist Information Centers at the airport (168 Liubinska St) and in the city center (1 Rynok Sq), as well as online following this link.
Where to Stay : There are many accommodations in the city of different categories. You will also find economical accommodations and boutique hotels. Lviv is a very, very walkable city. You can pretty much stay anywhere in the city proper and be no more than a 20 minute walk to the center. Rynok Square is the centre of the city and preferable area to stay in for first time tourists. Called Market Square in English, this is the section of the city that is best for weekend city-breakers. Prices start as low as $4 a night for a room in a hostel, and go up to over $100 a night in a luxury hotel. Grand Hotel Lviv Luxury & Spa, Hotel Atlas Deluxe, Hotel 39.
Lviv Weather : In Lviv, the summers are comfortable and partly cloudy and the winters are freezing and windy. Temperature typically varies over the year from 21°F to 75°F and is rarely below 3°F or above 85°F. Best time of year to visit Lviv for warm-weather activities is from late June to late August.
Ukraine Key Facts :
1. National Language : Ukrainian
2. Currency : The Hryvnia (UAH)
Ukraine words to learn : You don’t need to know Cyrillic alphabet to remember these basic phrases. To know the correct pronunciation click on this link.
Hello -> dobryj den’
How are you?-> Jak spravy
Very good -> Duzhe dobre
Yes/No -> Tak/ni
Excuse me -> vybachte
How much -> skilky
Please/You’re welcome -> Budʹ laska
Thanks -> d’akuju
Goodbye -> do pobachen’:a
Bye -> pa-pa
Country Code, Important Telephone Numbers :
- International dialling code : +380
- Police Emergency : 102
Best Apps : EasyWay app, Lviveleсtrotrans
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