Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“I came to Ukraine to learn something new”

French engineer and urbanist Pierre-Yves Tessier on Lviv life and Ukrainian “mentality change revolution”
29 November, 2017 - 17:56
Photo by Pavlo PALAMARCHUK

Pierre-Yves Tessier, a French engineer and urbanist, has been living in Lviv over the past seven and a half years. He came here from the East and has worked in the former USSR countries for more than 15 years. He has the experience of working in Uzbekistan, Georgia, Latvia, and Tajikistan. Before that, he had spent five years in Mongolia and even in Benin, Africa.

“It is more interesting to work like this than to build standard shopping malls in France. I like embracing other cultures and learning new languages,” Mr. Tessier says over a cup of coffee in a Lviv coffeehouse. No, we didn’t order croissants. Pierre-Yves does not project the stereotyped image of a Frenchman, all the more so that he already considers himself a Leopolitan. He speaks Ukrainian fluently. Here is what Pierre-Yves told us more in detail about his life in the City of Lion and his vision of Ukraine through the prism of Lviv.

ON WORK

“I never choose the next place of work. What predetermines my choice is a concrete project that needs the services of an engineer. When there arose an opportunity to work in Lviv, I immediately agreed. Repairing tram lines No. 2 and No. 6 was my first project which is now coming to a close. Then I took on, concurrently, the project of a legendary (only Leopolitans will get me) tram line to Sykhiv. Under the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development regulations, an independent foreign engineer was to check the quality of work and utilization of the loans offered to Lviv.

“In general, people here hasten too much about repairs. There are not many project institutes in Ukraine, and they do not always work well. It is wrong to think as follows: ‘It’s necessary to repair this street. So let us sign a contract now and start working tomorrow.’ First, there should be a detailed discussion. It will take a year or two to draw up a really high-quality project. And only then you can begin to work.”

“IT WAS LIKE A COMEBACK TO EUROPE”

“I’ve always had a longing for the East, especially Asia and Africa. Moving to Ukraine, I did not know much about this country. The West views it as part of Eastern Europe. I had no special expectations from Lviv. My mind recalled the image of big Soviet cities with very few historical quarters and old architecture structures but with many wide avenues and dormitory suburbs.

“When I arrived in Lviv, its beauty really struck me. It was for me like a comeback to Europe. Architecture-wise, Lviv is not Eastern but Central Europe. Unfamiliar with the city’s history, I knew nothing about influence of the Austrian and Polish empires. In the course of time I became conscious of Lviv’s architecture and urbanism.

“I will confess that I liked it that Lviv’s buildings showed their age. A building had as many years as it had cracks. This was the Lviv I moved to. It was a somewhat egoistic impression. The city has been renovated to a far larger extent now, which is a right thing to do. Old buildings are being continuously restored in Lviv.”

“IT TAKES TIME AND MUCH EFFORT”

“Lviv is dynamically developing. For example, the cafe we are now sitting in did not exist five years ago. Business is growing. New buildings, including apartment houses, are being built. Frankly speaking, this scares me a little. Yes, there are more and more multiple dwellings. The people who settle there are buying cars. But where will they be driving? Gridlocks are only on the rise. Lviv is a small city with narrow streets. I think there will be the same problems here as in Paris and London, where a toll is charged for driving in the downtown.

“I can see from inside how the city is actively modernizing. It is wonderful indeed. The Lviv administration works better and better with every passing year. They are trying to look more into the future. But it seems to me sometimes that they can’t keep pace with it. Lviv is developing faster than the municipal administration is adding and improving public services. I mean transport and so on.

“A lot of repairs are being done in the city now. However, even if there is enough money in the city’s treasury, you can’t possibly begin repairing all the streets at the same time, for this will just paralyze the city. Nobody had been doing anything in Lviv for almost 50 years. The city authorities will be unable to resolve all the problems within a few years. It takes time and much effort.”

“NOW, FOUR YEARS ON, I CAN STILL SEE THIS OPTIMISM”

“I don’t know other Ukrainian cities well enough to analyze them in detail. But I can see that Ukraine is developing. It is easy to criticize and complain that there should be much more progress. Whenever you receive something new, you soon forget that you did not have this two years ago. You quickly get used to improvements. Many steps forward have been taken after the Maidan. It is not what people expected, but still there is a lot of progress.

“I view the Maidan as a turning point that began to bring about changes. Some major changes have occurred in mentality. Seven years ago, when I came here, I saw disappointed Ukrainians with pessimism in their eyes. They had a revolution, they had elected a new president and thought they had done the job. But democracy means daily work. One must always be active, propose changes, intervene into processes, and try to pressure the authorities into working in an appropriate way.

“The Ukrainians woke up during the Maidan. When the then president broke them up, they decided to go to a successful end. That was a revolution not against the authorities but against themselves, for changing their mentality. People took to the streets to take the future into their own hands.

“Now, four years on, I can still see this optimism. Of course, you can always say that nothing has changed. Corruption is still rampant, and there are a lot of unrepaired roads… The country continues to gradually move on by inertia from the Maidan.”

“UKRAINE MUST OPEN UP”

“Ukraine used to be rather a closed country – perhaps because it was often somebody’s colony in history. The Ukrainians gained independence and hid from everybody. Inside your country, you began to search for your identity and explore history, without opening up to the others.

“However, this is changing. People are becoming more and more open. I like the slogan ‘Lviv is open to the world.’ Ukraine must open up to the others. The more the Ukrainians will be sure of their identity, language, and culture, the more open Ukraine will be.”

ON THE UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE

“Thanks to the experience of living in various nooks of the planet, I know very well how important it is to speak the local language. It is an important channel for understanding the culture of a country. I speak six languages fluently: French, English, Spanish, Mongolian, Russian, and Ukrainian.

“I came to Ukraine not only to work, but also to learn something new. Language and culture are always important and interesting to me. Yes, I used Russian as a working language, but I understood that I should know Ukrainian. I learned the language for one and a half years – I took individual classes with a tutor twice a week. Later, I fully switched to Ukrainian in work and in everyday life. At first, I must have been speaking not too elegantly. But I was gradually getting rid of pidgin. Now, whenever I speak or write in Russian, I notice that I use Ukrainian words (laughs).”

“I CONSIDER MYSELF A LEOPOLITAN”

“My life in Lviv is good and comfortable. I have a lot of friends here. In general, I consider myself a Leopolitan. It has been my house for seven and a half years. And I am not exactly in a hurry to leave it. Even when my projects come to a close, I will be seeking an opportunity to stay behind here. Maybe, I will receive one day a proposal to work in another interesting place. I will temporarily go there with a hope to come back. I hope I will always maintain a special relationship with Lviv.”

By Dmytro PLAKHTA, The Day, Lviv. Photo by Pavlo PALAMARCHUK
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