LVIV — At the end of a dark doorway we knock on a low door. A peephole opens and we hear the code words: Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)
We reply: Heroiam slava! (Glory to its heroes!)
“The answer is correct. Are there any Muscovites among you?”
“Hard to believe because your Ukrainian is very good,” says the hefty security guard in a paramilitary uniform. He opens the door and asks menacingly, “Do you have any firearms?”
“No, but maybe you will lend us a gun.”
The guard has a sense of humor, he bends a little toward us and says:
“Welcome to come in and we treat true and courageous Muscovites to some nastoianka liqueur.”
I am given a small glass. I down it and look around. A steep wooden stairway leads to the basement from which we can hear a well-known UPA song.
After standing in line we are finally inside the reputed Kryivka (Shelter) with its record number of customers. Thousands of people come here every day (it is across the street from the City Hall) to be in an unusual atmosphere, even if for an hour. Young people find it romantic, but my companion is a bit sad. At first Mykola Dubas looks around with enthusiasm, studying the photos and firearms on display. He puts on his glasses, reads the menu, then says: “By the way, alcohol was never served in the kryivkas. It was forbidden.”
Mykola Dubas does not hide his interest in being in a restaurant that intends to be one of Lviv’s calling cards. On the one hand, do pensioners often visit places of entertainment? On the other, for many people the word kryivka symbolizes an unswerving devotion to ideals; some believe that a kryivka should have nothing to do with entertainment. Dubas frowns reading “Chaste maiden” (a kind of ice cream served with fruit), “Buchenwald promenade” (boiled potatoes baked in sour cream), “Wehrmacht daily life” (buckwheat porridge with butter). Mykola Dubas is a writer, historian, compiler of a number of collections of UPA veterans’ recollections, particularly their use of kryivkas. He spent hard years in Mordovia camps and his return to Ukraine was anything but easy. In one of his books he shares his philosophy of life half-jokingly. These are “500 pieces,” or frashky, rhymed aphorisms. One reads: “There is a law of physics: the movement is where there is less resistance. But the exception is the movement of human spirit.”
These frahsky sound especially topical in a place where everyone is making merry, where everything is at the customer’s disposal (you can ask a rifle or a Mauser pistol and they will bring it). “The times change this well- known scene, now the king is clothed and the entire people, naked.”
Interestingly, archness, being ready with a joke on various occasions, and total absence of excesses is very often found in people who have seen and lived through a lot.
Dubas does not pass judgment but muses:
“I realize that the times are changing and to make young people interested in history one needs other, newer approaches. Here we have a masterful, talented managerial approach. Are there any speculative aspects to it? Without a doubt, but are they permissible here? Please, understand that I am not saying absolutely not, I’m trying to analyze things.
“Almost every kryivka meant the deaths of young people, they died tragic sacrificial deaths. There were times when security required to stay in a kryivka for months without even poking your nose outside, waiting for a courier with the code word. These kryivkas were built by real masters who added a sophisticated ventilation system when ventilation barrels were placed in a tree trunk, and there was always a sewer, smoke duct because a small stove was placed there. A kryivka was built near a pond or a stream, otherwise they saw to it that the inmates had a large reserve of fresh water. Spotting a kryivka was not easy. A tree would be planted in a large box and the door could opened only after the box was lifted from below. There were other tricks.”
“Is it true that there is a map of kryivkas somewhere?”
“No. No one knew where all the kryivkas were, not even Roman Shukhevych. Only several most trusted persons knew their whereabouts in a certain locality, otherwise considerably more people would have died. There are still laid up kryivkas.”
We are listening to music and sipping hot herbal tea with honey and hips, perhaps the kind UPA men brewed. There are many waiters hurrying hither and thither, all of them young people wearing loose khaki jeans and T-shirts with the UPA insignia: red and black stripes. Still, they look more like US volunteers.
There is a steady flow of customers, among them noted Lviv journalists, actors, businessmen. There are many young visitors who come to order simple — but rather expensive — dishes and take pictures of each other in front of very large photos showing young people dressed in paramilitary uniforms, almost always in the woods and carrying weapons. Customers train their cameras on a portrait of Stepan Bandera, an old wireless or even a flatiron from that period.
“Do these young people who are drinking and making merry under these old photos understand that practically all those people in the photos were killed shortly after posing for the camera?” Dubas seemed to be speaking to himself. “Most likely they don’t or don’t care. This pains my heart, but maybe I have an obsolete way of thinking, maybe I can’t meet everything new and progressive halfway?”
We sit in silence, listening to Russian being spoken around us, which is somehow out of place.
Says York Newark, the author of the Kryivka project: “Don’t be surprised. We have many guests from Russia and the east of Ukraine. At first they very often tend to be aggressive, but they leave almost our friends. Our guests buy books about the UPA, they show an interest about its history and their general attitude to Ukrainian history changes. Is this bad? People can understand each other only when in close contact. Even several Russian TV channels visited us and their programs turned out quite acceptable, even pleasant.
“By using the interior, music, the waiters’ costumes, and menu we created a living museum of UPA history. We want to prove to everybody that history should be treated easily instead of turning it into politics and capitalize on it. Our personnel even took a course in UPA history so they know it and what to tell our guests.
“Frankly speaking, we didn’t launch our project right away. There were many doubts. I personally collected various photos of UPA men and most of them have never been published. Sometimes people bring various objects, adding to our “museum” collection. For example, this portrait of Bandera is a present from the Plast. One of my partner even received a badge of honor from Oles Humeniuk, head of the OUN-UPA Brotherhood, for his book about UPA raids on Romania. Without a feeling of respect for our heroes we would never organize this restaurant.”
I know that Kryivka’s patrons receive numbered keys, so they don’t have to knock on the door with the formidable security guard. Key no. 1 was made for Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadovy. (This reminds me of Dubas’s yet another frashka: “I choose power not for the sake of paradise but to save people from hell on earth.” A month after launching the restaurant the mayor’s office received a letter from several nonprofit organizations requesting that Kryivka be closed because it is abusing and humiliating the national liberation idea. The organizers have a different concept. They want a chain of such restaurants all over Ukraine. They say that this project is most actively supported in the east of Ukraine. True, there are enough supporters in Lviv. We leave Kryivka and breath in the fresh air. There is a waiting line by the entrance. Something the residents have not seen for a long time, considering that there are so many restaurants, bars, cafes, and suchlike in the city and their owners are ready to cut each other’s throat over clientele.
Maybe there is something we don’t understand, maybe the times have changed so much that anything can be used to make money? So a provocative idea can be used to rejuvenate the [national] idea? After all, jazz musicians have come to Baptist churches and restaurants open at history museums, although they are in some way separate from the rest of the premises.
Once I heard an old NKVD man say, “Whatever they say, those young fellows did love Ukraine.” I wonder how they would feel about Kryivka. Maybe humorously, for they were young and cheerful. Or maybe they would feel sad, like Dubas.