Out of Ukraine: Mapping out a new sense of identity

LVOV - The town's founder named it after his son, Lev. That was in 1256. Since then much of Europe has quarrelled over the pronunciation. But whether you prefer Lwow, Lvov, Lviv, Lemberg or any other variation, it remains a city of sublime, though by now, somewhat shabby, grace.

It also occupies one of the most disputed patches of real estate in Europe, coveted, fought over but miraculously spared by the Poles, the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, Hitler, Stalin and the Ukrainians themselves. History in this part of Europe is less a matter of dates and events than lines and shading on maps.

Bogdan Tchaikovsky, director of the Lvov - or Lviv - Historical Museum, says there are so many different maps in the museum's collection no one has had time to count them. For most of his 15-year stint as director, they collected dust in the cellar. The only map that mattered was fixed at Yalta in 1945. It put Lvov and the rest of Galicia firmly in Ukraine and Ukraine firmly within the borders of the Soviet Union.

Slowly the old maps are coming out. The museum starts with a diagram of Kiev's domain in the 9th century. Moscow is not even a blob. Later comes an 18th century English cartoon showing the Russian and Hapsburg monarchs redrawing the map of Central Europe. More recent carve-ups, though, are absent. An entire wing of the museum - a magnificent Italianate mansion first built for a 17th century wine merchant - is in the throes of a Soviet-style revision which started when Ukraine became independent in 1991.

'Politics still intrude,' complains the director. 'Before it was the Party, now others want to tell us what to say.'

And when it comes to frontiers, nearly everyone in Lvov seems to have something to say. In Soviet times, secrecy conspired with dogma to make maps either wrong or non-existent. (For years the best map to Moscow was published by the Central Intelligence Agency. It gave all the streets and buildings which, for one reason or another, had been deleted from Soviet maps).

In western Ukraine cartography is something of an obsession. On Freedom (formerly Lenin) Prospekt, Lvov's main bookshop sells pots and pans as well as literature but its most popular line seems to be maps. I bought four different versions of Ukraine, three of Lvov and a world political map enshrining Ukraine as an independent state. All had been printed since independence. While much of Ukraine's industry has ground to a halt its map factories must be working non-stop. It as if people need reassuring that the impossible really did happen. They want it confirmed with a splash of pale- green ink for Ukraine, instead of a great band of Soviet pink, designated in one corner with the tag Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.

The reverence for - and manipulation of - maps reaches its apogee with Lvov's politicians. 'Everyone puts up the map that suits their own purposes,' says the museum director. At the headquarters of Rukh, an umbrella movement that galvanised support for independence, maps of Ukraine share wall space with more detailed maps of Crimea, the contested peninsula in the Black Sea. This is a bit of Soviet cartography Ukrainian patriots like: a decision by Khrushchev in 1954 to redraw the borders so as to remove Crimea from Russia and present it as a 'gift'. Stalin's success at forcing Poland to hand over most of Galicia and Volhynia is also welcomed, so long as it is Ukraine and not the Soviet Union that profits from the Great Dictator's bullying

More imaginative and more dangerous nationalists have their own ideas about cartography. Among those wanting to reshape the world is the editorial staff of Our Nation, a neo-Fascist journal that offers tips on paramilitary training and gun-care. A world map in the corridor outside the editor's office has been revised to include a few modest changes: Ukraine occupies the entire former Soviet Union; most of Western Europe has become the 'dependent territory of Ukraine'; the eastern seaboard of the United States, including Washington and New York, has been renamed the 'New States of Ukraine'. Only Canada, blessed with a large population of Ukrainian immigrants, is spared.

I can find no trace of Russia, which seems to have vanished entirely, but I am searching in the wrong place. An activist from Our Nation points me in the right direction. In the Central African Republic there is a circle of barbed wire; scrawled in the middle is a tag to identify its inhabitants: the Russians. This, says Our Nation, is a joke.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee