Letter: Naughty, but definitely not a Ukrainian

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with interest Andrew Higgins' piece ('Who was a naughty Ukrainian then?', 23 July) on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, one of the forgotten scions of Lvov, whose first name is almost a variant of the many names of the city of his birth.

It would nevertheless be quite inaccurate either to refer to him as a Ukrainian or to refer to the Lvov of his time as a 'Ukrainian town'. Lvov, known also as Lwow, Lemberg and Leopol, dates back to the 13th century when a Halician tribal leader, Daniel, named this early trading post after his son, Lew. In the next century, when the Polish crown reclaimed the lands of Podolia, King Casimir the Great laid the foundations on that site of what was to become one of the cultural centres of Central Europe and the seat of three archbishoprics at the confluence of three Christian traditions.

On the first partition of Poland in 1772, Lwow, along with a swathe of territory to the west, was annexed into the Austrian Empire and became part of Galicia and was renamed Lemberg. The population of the city had long consisted of diverse minorities, among them Ruthenians, Armenians, Tartars, Hungarians, Greeks and even Italians, to whom were then added Germanic people. A quarter were Jews and over half ethnic Poles. The city retained a markedly Polish character under benign Austro-Hungarian rule throughout the 19th century and the early part of this. It flourished as an industrial and academic centre of excellence in the brief resurgence of independent Poland until the Nazi invasion.

Except for a few months in 1918, Lwow could not be called 'Ukrainian' until after the 'partition' of the Treaty of Yalta in 1945, in which Britain participated and as a result of which the city along with its neighbouring oilfields were incorporated into the Soviet Union. By then, the entire Jewish population had been purged and most of the remaining Poles were expatriated to the west into Upper Silesia. Thus, Lvov became Ukrainian only some 50 years ago when Russification began in earnest.

Von Sacher-Masoch may have been naughty, but hardly Ukrainian.

Yours faithfully,


London, SW6

23 July

(Photograph omitted)