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The old town of Lviv
Lviv (Ukrainian: , L’viv ; ; ; ; , see also other names) is an administrative centermarker in western Ukrainemarker with more than a millennium of history as a settlement, and over seven centuries as a city. Prior to the creation of the modern state of Ukraine, Lviv had been part of numerous states and empires, including, under the name Lwów, Polandmarker and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; under the name Lemberg, the Austrianmarker and later Austro-Hungarian Empires; the short-lived West Ukrainian People's Republicmarker after World War I; Poland again; and the Soviet Unionmarker. In addition, both the Swedesmarker and the Ottoman Turks made unsuccessful attempts to conquer the city.

Early history

Recent archaeological excavations show that the area of Lviv has been populated since at least the 5th century. From around 8th century AD the area seems to be inhabited by a West Slavic tribe of Ledzane that in 9th century were subdued by the Empire of Great Moravia. In the second half of 9th century Ledzane could be included in the area of influence of the Magyar tribes. Then became an area of contention between two emerging states: Poland (during the reign of Mieszko I, ruler of the Polans) and the Kievan Rus. Mieszko is thought to have controlled the area from 960 to 980. According to Nestor's chronicle, in 981 this area was conquered by Volodymyr the Great, ruler of Kievan Rus.

However, the city itself was founded in 1256 by King Danylo of the Ruthenian duchy of Halych-Volhynia, and named in honor of his son, Lev. Other sources mention that it was his son himself who founded the city. Thus the toponym might best be translated into English as Leo's lands or Leo's City (hence the Latin name Leopolis).

Lviv is first mentioned in Halych-Volhynian Chronicle from 1256. Due to its central location it grew quickly, and was made the capital of the Kingdom in 1272. As a major trade center, Lviv attracted German, Armenian and other merchants. In 1323, the Romanovich dynasty (local branch of the Rurik Dynasty) died out. The city was inherited by the heir of the Romanovich dynasty (on his mother's side)—Boleslaus of Masovia (also from the Piast dynasty on his father's side). He took the name of Yuriy and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, but failed to gain the support of the local nobles and was eventually poisoned by them.

After his death in 1340, the rights to Red Ruthenia were claimed by his cousin, king Casimir III of Poland. The nobles elected one of their own, Dmytro Dedko, as ruler, and repulsed a Polish invasion in 1340. After Dedko's death, however, Lviv was successfully invaded and occupied in 1349. In 1356 Casimir III granted the city with Magdeburg rights which implied that all city issues were to be solved by a city council, elected by the wealthy citizens. This started a period of accelerated development: among other facilities the Latin Cathedralmarker was built, around the same time a church was built in the place of today's St. George's Cathedralmarker. Also, new self-government led to the greater growth of the Armenian community that built its Armenian Cathedralmarker in 1363.

In 1387, this area was directly included into the Polish Crown by Jadwiga of Poland. The city later served as the homage site of some of the vassals of Kings of Poland.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

As a part of Poland (and later Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) Lwów became the capital of the Ruthenian Voivodeship, which included five regions: Lwów, Chełmmarker ( ), Sanokmarker, Haliczmarker ( ) and Przemyślmarker ( ). The city was granted the right of transit and started to gain significant profit from the goods transported between the Black Seamarker and the Balticmarker. In the following centuries, the city's population grew rapidly and soon Lwów became a multi-ethnic and multi-religious city as well as an important centre of culture, science and trade.

The city's fortifications were strengthened, with Lwów becoming one of the most important fortresses guarding the Commonwealth from the south-east. Three archbishoprics were once located in the city: Roman Catholic (est. 1375), Greek Catholic and Armenian Catholic. The city was also home to numerous ethnic populations, including Germansmarker, Jews, Italians, Englishmen, Scotsmen and many others. Since the 16th century, the religious mosaic of the city also included strong Protestant communities. By the first half of the 17th century, the city had approximately 25-30 thousand inhabitants. About 30 craft organizations were active by that time, involving well over a hundred different specialities.

Decline of the Commonwealth

In the 17th century Lwów was besieged unsuccessfully several times. Constant struggles against invading armies gave it the motto Semper fidelis. In 1649, the city was besieged by the Cossacks under Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who seized and destroyed the local castle. However, the Cossacks did not retain the city and withdrew, satisfying themselves with a ransom. In 1655 the Swedish armies invaded Poland and soon took most of it. Eventually the Polish king Jan II Kazimierz solemnly pronounced his vow to consecrate the country to the protection of the Mother of God and proclaimed Her the Patron and Queen of the lands in his kingdom at Lwów Latin Cathedral in 1656 (Lwów Oath).

The Swedes laid siege to Lwów, but were forced to retreat before capturing it. The following year saw Lwów invaded by the armies of the Transylvanian Duke George I Rákóczi, but the city was not captured. In 1672 Lwów was again besieged by the Turkish army of Mehmed IV, however the Treaty of Buczacz ended the war before the city was taken. In 1675 the city was attacked by the Ottomans and the Tatars, but king John III Sobieski defeated them on August 24 in what is called the Battle of Lwów. In 1704, during the Great Northern War, the city was captured and pillaged for the first time in its history by the armies of Charles XII of Sweden.


Greek-catholic Cathedral of St. George (in 1916)
During Austrian rule, Lviv became the capital of the crown land Galicia and had its own regional assembly (pictured)
In 1772, following the First Partition of Poland, the city, thenceforth known as "Lemberg", became the capital of the Austrian Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. The city remained an important centre of both Polish and Ukrainian cultures. Initially the Austrianmarker rule was somewhat liberal. In 1784, the Emperor Joseph II reopened the University. Lectures were held in Latin, German, Polish and (from 1786) also in Ukrainian. Wojciech Bogusławski opened the first public theatre in 1794 and Józef Maksymilian Ossoliński founded in 1817 the Ossolineum, a scientific institute. Early in the 19th century, the city became the new seat of the primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Kyiv (Kiev), Halych and Rus, the Metropolitan of Lviv.

However, in the beginning of the 19th century the Austrian authorities started a campaign of Germanization. The University was closed in 1805 and re-opened in 1817 as a purely German academy, without much influence over the city's life. Most of other social and cultural organizations were banned as well. The harsh laws imposed by the Habsburg dynasty led to an outbreak of public dissent in 1848. A petition was sent to the Emperor asking him to re-introduce local self-government, education in Polish and Ukrainian and granting Polish with a status of official language.

Most of these pleas were accepted twenty years later: in 1861 a Galician parliament (Sejm Krajowy) was opened and in 1867 Galicia was granted vast autonomy, both cultural and economic. The University was allowed to start lectures in Polish. The province of Galicia became the only part of the former Polish state with some cultural and political freedom, and the city then served as a major Polish political and cultural centre. Similarly, the city also served as an important centre of the Ukrainian patriotic movement and culture, unlike other parts of Ukraine under Russian rule, where, prior to 1905, all publications in Ukrainian were prohibited as part of an intense Russification campaign. The city was also granted the right to send delegates to the imperial parliament in Vienna, which motivated many prominent cultural and political leaders to move to the city, serving as a meeting place of Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish and German cultures.

20th century

During World War I the city was captured by the Russian army in September 1914, but was retaken the following year (in June) by Austria-Hungary. With the collapse of the Habsburg Empire at the end of World War I, the local Ukrainian population proclaimed Lviv as the capital of the West Ukrainian People's Republic on November 1, 1918.

Polish-Ukrainian conflict

As the Austro-Hungarian government collapsed, on October 18, 1918, the Ukrainian National Council (Rada) was formed in the city, consisting of Ukrainian members of the Austrian parliament and regional Galician and Bucovinan diets as well as leaders of Ukrainian political parties. The Council announced the intention to unite the West Ukrainian lands into a single state. As the Poles were taking their own steps to take over Lviv and Eastern Galicia, Captain Dmytro Vitovsky of the Sich Riflemen led the group of young Ukrainian officers in a decisive action and during the night of October 31 - November 1, the Ukrainian militarymen took control over the city. The West Ukrainian People's Republic was proclaimed on November 1, 1918 with Lviv as its capital. The proclamation of the Republic—which claimed sovereignty over largely Ukrainian-populated territories—was a complete surprise for the Poles, who constituted a majority in the city. Also the Poles considered the territory claimed by the WUPR Polish. So, while the Ukrainian residents enthusiastically supported the proclamation and the city's significant Jewish minority accepted or remained neutral towards the Ukrainian proclamation, the Polish residents were shocked to find themselves in a proclaimed Ukrainian state.

Immediately, the overwhelming Polish majority of Lviv, a city of over 200,000, started an armed uprising that the 1,400 Ukrainian garrison consisting mostly of teenage peasants disoriented in the city were unable to quell. The Poles soon took control over most of the city centre. Unable to break into the central areas, Ukrainian forces besieged the city, defended by Polish irregular forces including the Lwów Eaglets. After the Inter-Allied Commission in Paris agreed to leave the city under Polish administration until its future was resolved by a post-war treaty or a referendum, the regular Polish forces reached the city on November 19 and by November 22, the Ukrainian troops were forced out. Chaos during Polish take-over of the city was accompanied by isolated events in which unknown number of Poles, Jews and Ukrainians perished. This event was reported in western press and called "pogrom in Lviv". The number of victims reported in the papers have not been proved.

In the following months, other territories of Galicia controlled by the government of the West Ukrainian People's Republic were captured by the Polish forces, which effectively ended the power of the West Ukrainian government. The April 1920 agreement concluded by Poland with Symon Petlura, the exiled leader of the Ukrainian People's Republicmarker, met with the fierce opposition of western Ukrainians. It recognized Poland's control of the city and the area in exchange for Polish military assistance to Petlura against the Bolsheviks.

Polish-Soviet War

During the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 the city was attacked by the forces of Aleksandr Yegorov. Since mid-June 1920 the 1st Cavalry Army of Semyon Budyonny was trying to reach the city from the north and east. At the same time Lwów was preparing the defence. The inhabitants raised and fully equipped three regiments of infantry and two regiments of cavalry as well as constructed defensive lines. The city was defended by an equivalent of three Polish divisions aided by one Ukrainian infantry division. Finally after almost a month of heavy fighting on August 16 the Red Army crossed the Bug river and, reinforced by additional 8 divisions of the so called Red Cossacks, started an assault on the city. The fighting occurred with heavy casualties on both sides, but after three days the assault was halted and the Red Army retreated. For the heroic defence the city was awarded with the Virtuti Militari medal.


Following the Peace of Riga the city remained in Poland as the capital of the Lwów Voivodeship. The city, which was the third biggest in Poland, became one of the most important centres of science, sports and culture of Polandmarker. For example, the Lwów School of Mathematics embodied a rich mathematical tradition; the school gathered at the Scottish Cafémarker and maintained a notebook of problems and results.

Population of Lwów, 1931 (by religion)
Roman Catholic: 157,500 (50.4%)
Judaism: 99,600 (31.9%)
Greek Catholic: 49,800 (16.0%)
Protestant: 3,600 (1.2%)
Orthodox: 1,100 (0.4%)
Other denominations: 600 (0.2%)
Total: 312,200
Source: 1931 Polish census

Population of Lwów, 1931 (by first language)
Polish: 198,200 (63.5%)
Yiddish or Hebrew: 75,300 (24.1%)
Ukrainian or Ruthenian: 35,100 (11.2%)
German: 2,500 (0.8%)
Russian: 500 (0.2%)
Other denominations: 600 (0.2%)
Total: 312,200
Source: 1931 Polish census

During interbellum period Lwów had grown significantly from 219,000 inhabitants in 1921, to 312,200 in 1931 and an estimated number of 318,000 residents in 1939. Although Poles constituted a majority, Jews formed more than a one-fourth of population. Ukrainian minority was also sizable one. There were also other minorities, including Germans, Armenians, Karaims, Georgians etc. maybe numerically not significant, but enriching Lwów's multicultural character and heritage. The city was, right after capital Warsaw, the second most important cultural and academic centre of Poland (in academical year 1937/38 there were 9,1 thousand students, attending 5 higher education facilities including widely renown university and institute of technology). Together with Poznań, Lwów was Poland's trade fairs centre, with internationally renown Targi Wschodnie (The Eastern Trade Fair) held annually since 1921, which had fostered city's economical growth.

At the same time, the Polish government reduced the rights of the local Ukrainians, closing down many of the Ukrainian schools. or turning them into bilingual Ukrainian-Polish ones that were, in effect, Polish. Increased Polish settlement reduced the relative percentage of the Ukrainian population in the city, from around 20% in 1910 to less than 12% by 1931. At the university, all Ukrainian departments that had opened during the period of Austrian rule were closed save for one, the 1848 Department of Ruthenian Language and Literature, whose chair position was allowed to remain vacant until 1927 before being filled by an ethnic Pole. Most Ukrainian professors were fired, and entrance of ethnic Ukrainians was restricted; in response an underground university in Lwów, and a Ukrainian Free University in Vienna (later moved to Praguemarker) were established . In official documents, the Polish authorities also replaced references to Ukrainians with the old word "Ruthenians", an action that caused many Ukrainians to view that description with distaste.

World War II

Red Army cavalry entering Lviv, 1939
Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and the German 1st Mountain Division reached the suburbs of Lwów on September 12 and began a siege. The city's garrison was ordered to hold out at all cost since the strategic position prevented the enemy from crossing into the Romanian Bridgehead. Also, a number of Polish troops from Central Poland were trying to reach the city and organise a defence there to buy time to regroup. Thus a 10 day long defence of the city started and later became known as yet another Battle of Lwów. On September 19 an unsuccessful Polish diversionary attack under General Władysław Langner was launched. Soviet troops (part of the forces which had invaded on September 17 under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) replaced the Germans around the city. On September 21 Langner formally surrendered to Soviet troops under Marshal Semyon Timoshenko.

The Soviet and Nazi forces divided Poland between themselves and a rigged plebiscite absorbed the Soviet-occupied eastern half of Poland, including Lwów, into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Initially, the Jewish and part of the Ukrainian population who lived in the interwar Polandmarker cheered the Soviet takeover whose stated goal was to protect the Ukrainian population in the area. Depolonisation combined with large scale anti-Polish actions began immediately, with huge numbers of Poles and Jews from Lviv deported eastward into the Soviet Union. About 30 thousand were deported in the beginning of 1940 alone. A smaller percentage of the Ukrainian population was deported as well.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the NKVD spent a week hastily executing prisoners held in the Brygidkimarker and Zamarstynów prisons, where around 8000 were murdered.

A Lenin statue in Lviv being removed after the arrival of German troops in the summer of 1941.

Initially, a great part of the Ukrainian population considered the German troops as liberators after the two years of genocidal Soviet regime, similarly to many Jewish and Ukrainian inhabitants who had earlier welcomed the Soviets as their liberators from the rule of "bourgeois" Polandmarker. City's Ukrainian minority initially associated Germans with the previous Austrian times, happier for them in comparison to the later Polish and especially the Soviet periods. However, already since the beginning of the German occupation of the city, the situation of the city's inhabitants became tragic. After being subject to deadly pogroms, the Jewish inhabitants of the area were rushed into a newly-created ghetto and then mostly sent to various German concentration camps. The Polish and smaller Ukrainian populations of the city were also subject to harsh policies, which resulted in a number of mass executions both in the city and in the Janowska camp. Among the first to be murdered were the professors of the city's universities and other members of Polish elite (intelligentsia). On June 30, 1941, the first day of the German occupation of the city, one of the wings of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) declared restoration of the independent Ukrainian state. In a few days, the initiators of this action, Stepan Bandera, Yaroslav Stetsko and others, were arrested by Nazi Einsatzgruppemarker and sent to Nazi concentration camps, where both of Bandera's brothers were executed. The policy of the occupying power turned quickly harsh towards Ukrainians as well. Some of the Ukrainian nationalists were driven underground, and from that time forward, they fought against the Nazis, but continued also to fight against Poles and Soviet forces (see Ukrainian Insurgent Army).

As the Red Army was approaching the city in 1944, on July 21 the local leadership of the Polish resistance Home Army ordered all Polish forces to rise in an armed uprising (see also Operation Tempest). After four days of the city fights and the advance of the Red Army in the final phase of the Lvov-Sandomierz Operation the city was handed over to the Soviet Union . As before, the Soviet authorities quickly turned hostile to the city's Poles, including the members of the Polish Home Army (whose leaders were subsequently executed by the Soviets), and the genocidal policies restarted.

Following the Soviet takeover the members of Polish resistance were either forcibly conscripted to the Soviet controlled Polish People's Army or imprisoned..

Lviv pogroms and the Holocaust

Before the war, Lwów had the third-largest Jewish population in Poland, which swelled further to over 200,000 Jews as war refugees entered the city. Immediately after the Germans entered the city, Einsatzgruppenmarker and civil collaborators organized a massive pogrom, which they claimed was in retaliation for the NKVD's earlier killings (though Jews were also killed during the NKVD purge). Many Holocaust scholars attribute much of the killing to the Ukrainian nationalists. However the killers' actual political orientation and relation to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists is still subject to debate. During the four-week pogrom from the end of June to early July, 1941, nearly 4,000 Jews were murdered. On July 25, 1941, a second pogrom, called "Petliura Days" after Symon Petliura, was organized; nearly 2,000 more Jews were killed in Lviv, mostly shot in groups by civilian collaborators after being marched to the Jewish cemetery or to Lunecki prison.

The Lwów Ghettomarker was established after the pogroms, holding around 120,000 Jews, most of whom were deported to the Belzec extermination campmarker or killed locally during the following two years. Following the pogroms, Einsatzgruppenmarker killings, harsh conditions in the ghetto, and deportation to the death camps, including the Janowska labor camp located on the outskirts of the city, resulted in the almost complete annihilation of the Jewish population. By the time that the Soviet forces reached the town in 1944, only 200–300 Jews remained.

Simon Wiesenthal (later known as a Nazi-hunter) was one of the most famous Jews of Lviv to survive the war, though he was transported to a concentration camp. Many city residents tried to assist and hide the Jews hunted by the Nazis (despite the death penalty imposed for such acts), like for example Leopold Socha, who helped two Jewish families to survive in the sewers, where they were hiding after liquidation of the ghetto.. Wiesenthal's memoir, The Murderers Amongst Us, describes how he was saved by a Ukrainian policeman named Bodnar. The Lvivans hid thousands of Jews, many of them were later recognized as Righteous Gentiles. A large effort in saving the members of the Jewish community was organized by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky.

Post-war Soviet period

After the war, despite Polish efforts, the city remained as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Most of the remaining Polish population was expelled to the Polish territories gained from Germany (especially to present day Wrocławmarker) whose German population was respectively expelled or fled in fear of Soviet retribution.

Migrants from Ukrainian-speaking rural areas around the city, as well as from other parts of the Soviet Union arrived attracted by the city's rapidly growing industry requirements. This population transfer altered the traditional ethnic composition of the city, which was already drastically changed as Polish, Jewish and German population was displaced or murdered.

With Russification being a general Soviet policy in post-war Ukraine, in Lviv it was combined with the disestablishment of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (see History of Christianity in Ukraine) at the state-sponsored Synod of Lviv, which agreed to transfer all parishes to the recently recreated Ukrainian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, after the death of Stalin, Soviet cultural policies were relaxed, allowing Lviv, the major centre of Western Ukraine to become a major hub of Ukrainian culture.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the city significantly expanded both in population and size. A number of prominent plants and factories were established or moved from eastern parts of the USSR. This resulted in partial Russification of the city and some loss of its western flavour. Among the most famous plants were the bus factory (Lvivsky Avtomobilny Zavod), which produced most of the buses in the Soviet Union and employed upwards of 30,000, TV factory "Zavod Elektron" which made one of the most popular brand of television sets in the country, the front-end loader factory (Zavod Avto-Pogruzchik), the shoe factory (Obuvnaya Fabrika Progress), confectionery Svitoch, and many more. Each of these employed tens of thousands of workers and were among the largest employers in the region. Most of them survive to this day, although economic difficulties put a drain on their production figures.

In the period of Soviet liberalization of the mid-to-end 1980s until the early 1990s (see Glasnost and Perestroika) the city became the centre of Rukh (People's Movement of Ukraine), a political movement advocating Ukrainian independence from the USSR.

Independent Ukraine

Celebrations at Lviv Opera for the 750th anniversary of the city in 2006
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Lviv became part of the newly-independent Ukraine, serving as the capital of the Lviv Oblastmarker. Today the city remains one of the most important centers of Ukrainian cultural, economic and political life and is noted for its beautiful and diverse architecture. In its recent history, Lviv strongly supported Viktor Yushchenko during the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election and played a key role in the Orange Revolution. Hundred of thousands of people would gather in freezing temperature to demonstrate for the Orange camp. Acts of civil disobedience forced the head of the local police to resign and the local assembly issued a resolution refusing to accept the fraudulent first official results.

Lviv celebrated its 750th year in September 2006. One large event was a light show around the Lviv Opera Housemarker.


  1. Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: a history, pp. 367-368, University of Toronto Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8020-8390-0
  2. Mały Rocznik Statystyczny 1939 (Polish statistical yearbook of 1939), GUS, Warsaw, 1939
  3. Ukrainian Free University website URL accessed July 30, 2006
  4. The Fate of Poles in the USSR 1939~1989" by Tomasz Piesakowski ISBN 0 901342 24 6 Page 36

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