Lviv or Bust

View from our Apartment in Lviv

With our two middle boys off at Camp for the week, and a ‘as good as its going to get’ break in my work week, in typical last minute style we off and went to Western Ukraine for 3 days. Wanting to see more of Ukraine, particularly the western part, we headed toward Lviv, Ukraine’s 7th largest city, it’s ‘cultural capital’ with a very rich history.

Established around 1256, Lviv was named after King Danylo’s son Lev, (a Ruthenian). Lev means Lion. Living over here you realize quickly how little North Americans know about European history. As we took a guided tour we embarrassingly had to answer ‘no’ several times to the question, “you’ve heard of this famous King” or “this building was designed by this famous artist, you’ve heard of him right?’ Well, actually, we’re Americans and unfortunately the only thing on our minds when we enter a lovely historic city is, “where in the world are we going to eat?”  We did manage to find some good food.. close call!

Downtown Preparations for Euro2012

Amazing history. Lviv had 3 concentration camps during Nazi occupation, one for Jews, one for Poles, and another for Ukrainians. Unlike eastern Ukraine, there is an obvious Catholic influence, and some gorgeous churches still in tact from the 14-16th Century. It’s closely linked to the Polish neighbors next door, it wasn’t until the Soviet era that Lviv was actually separate from Poland. The City was left relatively unharmed during the most recent wars. When you attempt to drive in a city like Lviv, you become quickly frustrated by the random layout which can quickly leave you dizzy. The stone / brick streets have grown outlandishly bumpy over the many years, they may be OK for walking on, but they are exactly what your suspension does not need. My poor truck left limping all the way back to Kiev, I have to take it to the shop tomorrow.

Large Statue in Center Displays Lviv History

Deb and Rodge enjoying Gloria Jeans Coffee Cafe

We stayed in an apartment, which is more economical and functional for a family over here. It was a special time with the kids, it was amazing how quiet and relatively easy it was traveling without our two rowdy boys. We enjoyed watching Clark and Noah run rampantly around the square, chasing birds they called chickens and reminding us how much fun the world can be through tiny eyes (and brains).

The country is beautiful, and we look forward to seeing more of it maybe next year. We enjoyed getting back to our little town, it truly feels like home.

{{Spoiler Warning – I go off on a rant about the criminal nature of the police below}}

Not sure why we are posing with salad bowl

The negative about traveling in Ukraine, besides the often horrible road conditions, lack of signs or general rules while driving, were the police. I have to say, after 3yrs I am still bedazzled how these guys can get away with their bandit like thievery along the roads. For 500km we were continually on edge as we watched random cars get selected with the ‘magic stick’, we escaped all of them.. except one. In America you can look for speed limit signs, and follow them. Within the known laws, you are relaxed, you are safe. Here, getting pulled over is all about knowing where the speed changes, without any signs most of the time. The changes are often at odd places too, that simply don’t make sense. They lay in wait, usually hidden in a forest or a crosswalk area, with their radar gun. As cars drive by everyone positions their vehicle in the least accessible manner, hiding behind semi-trucks, or getting on the inside lane beside another car. There is almost always someone pulled over, it’s probably the only efficient government run institution. The moment a car pulls off, or sometimes before (they work in two’s, one sits in the car and takes the bribes, the other aims the gun and flags you over), another car is being waved over. I know what you are thinking, ‘well just obey the speed limit’.. trust me, we did this with full intention the entire way there and back, and still got nabbed and only just escaped the sovereign benevolent selection process a half dozen other times. They refuse to give you a ticket, they want you to pay them by cash right there. There is an entire process of argumentation, like a traditional mating dance by those crazy birds you see sometimes on the animal planet.

The average Ukrainian has simply accepted this process, and usually, compliantly hands over a 20-50hrv bill and goes merrily on their way. If it’s not speeding that they can nail you with, it will be a document you are missing, or problem with one of your many documents. The gray parts of the law are many, and exploited when needed. The police rent the speed gun from the police headquarters, they have to pay in some cases $400 per day for the gun and everything above this amount is theirs to split. It is a criminal system, the police, in most cases, ARE the criminals in Ukraine (the road police anyway), and it goes all the way to the top of Ukrainian government I am told (by a reliable source who has family IN the system). When we first moved here, I thought it wasn’t that big of a problem. I mean the poor police are just trying to make a living, they only make $200-300 per month (a normal salary). But they are abusing their power for their own personal good. They are, in my view, the explicit personification of evil in Ukraine and in any nation that rejects God and an objective sense of morality. Everyone is out for their own. The ‘ends justifying the means’ is what allows thugs to prostitute fellow human beings, steal land from unsuspecting grandmothers, and everything in between. Corruption, plain and simple, is at the heart of this country. What makes it so different from America? There’s a continual battle in America, people standing up, presenting arguments, influencing on both sides. Here, the people have only known subjection, war, and defeat. They have been abused by power, not protected by it. It does something to the national psyche when right never wins. You begin to believe that ‘right’ is an allusion, and you retreat off into your quiet little world, hoping never to be noticed. Trying to be a ‘good citizen’ in the midst of this corruption takes a lot of effort, it takes abuse, and you are often stripped away of your ‘rights’. It will take more than Christians or strong valued Ukrainians that are willing to be taken advantage of however if anything will change. It will take public discourse, discontent, and a people that will stand up and shout back when God’s ways are being overtly rejected. God is good, His ways are the best. Don’t believe me, come and visit and I’ll show you the bars where men sit dejected and without purpose in my town. I tell my secular agnostic friends this, you want to see what a communistic social atheist message produces, it’s that guy who wreaks of alcohol who is attempting to drown his misery. God’s ways are higher Ukraine, you don’t have to find this out too late.

We officially want a Segway, $3 gets you 2 minute try!

I write all of that not because I think any of you might think it’s interesting, you probably already know this from living, visiting or reading other sources. I want search engines to pick it up, I want to do my small part with the freedom of press we still have (It is seriously diminishing under this government). The Euro Cup is coming next year, and a will shine a huge light on this country. The government is desperately trying to put the proverbial lipstick on the pig, nice new roads, some new hotels and a new terminal at the airport. I for one am looking forward the what the light reveals, and the embarrassment it will be for Ukraine’s leaders within the international community. The outward changes mean very little, the heart of man is desperately wicked and the answer is Christ. He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life for Ukraine, and every nation!

Thanks for checking in,

Bruce & Deb

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