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Postup # 11 (669) January 19, 2001

Taras Voznyak

Death in L’viv

“in anger without bound and without regret but also without anger” (133)
Yuri Andrukhovych, Perverzion. Trans. Michael M. Naydan. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2005.

One of the best known and, indubitably, a truly talented Halychyna’s and, I hope, L’viv’s contemporary author Yuri Andrukhovych (despite the fact that sometimes he resides in Ivano-Frankivsk), while stylizing in his latest and, in my opinion, most successful novel Perverzion the atmosphere of contemporary Halychyna and the L’viv-Frankivs’k environs, turned to the city or the illusion resembling a city – Venice. I think this probably did not happen because Venice has its very own St. Yuri (George) – the cathedral San Giorgio Maggiore.

There can be no doubt that the esteemed master discerned quite well the almost imperceptible, and yet definitive, scent that reigns in this city. This scent is subtle, sweet and sometimes dizzying. Evidently, something greater than just common Central European origin (I am not afraid to use these words) united Stas Perfetsky/Yuri Andrukhovych (Perverzion), born in the formerly Austro-Hungarian and now Ukrainian Halychyna, with Gustav von Aschenbach/Thomas Mann, born in the neighboring, formerly German and now Polish Silesia/Prussia (Death in Venice), as well as with Gustav Mahler – a native of Austro-Hungarian and now Czech Moravia (Gustav Mahler, Symphonie Nr. 4 G-dur) – in their hankering for formerly Austrian, and now Italian, Venice.

For a connoisseur of scents, this smell cannot be covered up with anything, be it the pungent iodine and salt of the seas, the scent of which periodically arrives from the lagoon, or the perfume of the next Ada Zitrone, or the magnificent variety in odors of perspiration at the Venetian opera. This scent has saturated the entire fabric of the formerly young and cheerful Renaissance town, the city of adventurers, courtesans, and the bustling markets. After all, Venice used to smell differently – of oriental spices, Toscan and Greek wines, olives, and lust.

The same combination of smells was characteristic of young L’viv – the town glorified in the 17th century Latin by Sebastian Fabian Klenovich in his Roxolania (2, 68). For him, this is the L’viv that is “rich in various aromas… the root of calamus, ginger, the seeds of cardamom, and an herb which people like to call “fragrant cane,” pepper and the best medicine for liver – rhubarb, … and nutmeg, and reddish saffron” (translation – O.Shchur). Initially, it was the aromas of the Orient that dominated at L’viv markets, shops, and wineries. It is not accidental that a magnificent Korniakt Tower – the gift of a nobleman and one of the best-known wine merchants in the city – came to loom large over L’viv.

However, even Klenovich himself distinguishes amidst this abundance of scents and sounds a disturbing solo of a trumpet, which “bears witness… to the irreversibility of time that quickly elapses into the void.” This is just a subtle aroma, with a hint of sweetness in it…         

Venice is eroded from beneath by the omnipresent water and mildew that have been described and portrayed in literature thousands of times – “the memory of the sea green” (Andrukhovych, 131), the sea itself and the lagoon as its agent, which consume it slowly but irreversibly.

L’viv’s “foundations down below are washed by the Styx.” Unfortunately, in L’viv’s case, the Styx transformed into the old L’viv sewage system. However, it became not only that.

Recently, the editors of the Journal ¯ decided to visually chronicle the most important events from the life of the city on their website (¿-³íôîðì). They tried to account for those events that occurred in the year of 2000, which could be considered key both for the city and for such a year – to distill the essence of this year. What they found turned out to be quite symptomatic. So, which events became the key notes in the Symphony L’viv 2000?

After a boisterous celebration of the New Year of 2000 and the first “fake” entrance into the new millennium, the hangover lasted in the city in Andante cantabile (Mozart. Symfonie 41 RV 551 C-dur Jupiter) until May, when as a thunderbolt in Dies Irae (Mozart. Requiem KV 626 minor/D-moll, Dies Irae) the characteristically senseless death of Ihor Bilozir struck the city. It had to happen in this very city, however facetious this might sound. Unfortunately, during the period of independence and the general impoverishment – both material and spiritual, -- in the fumes of stupor and self-victimization, we lost our touch with reality and our sense of reverence for everything, and especially for ourselves (Mozart. Requiem KV 626 minor/D-moll, Rex tremendae). First and foremost, we allowed ourselves, and not anyone else, to let this happen. Absurdly and thoughtlessly, in a L’viv street, someone killed a man who most probably did not even realize the significance of his name for his culture.

We did not heed the warning of the disturbingly periodical, as the desperate Lacrimosa (Mozart. Requiem KV 626 minor/D-moll, Lacrimosa), crumbling of L’viv’s old stone buildings – one after another. This happened exactly because of L’viv’s old sewage system – the Styx, whose monotonous waves erode the foundations of our houses – on the corner of the Valova Street and the Serbska Street, in the Liberty Avenue, in the Mickiewicz Square, and in the Zelena Street…  

The bacchanalia of destruction reached its climax in the crumbling of the hotel without an owner, but with a symbolic name Ukraine (the Mickiewicz Square), which fell on January 4, 2001 – right after our blasphemously loud celebration of the New Year of 2001, which was not toned down even in honor of the unburied body of the deceased hero.  

As barely perceptible parallels, two melodies were playing at this time: L’viv’s very own theme of Polish military graves in the Lychakiv Cemetery (Mozart. Requiem KV 626 minor/D-moll, Tuba mirum) and the theme of Ukrainian burials in Poland, slightly more removed from L’viv (yet still so moving in its first chords of Kyrie! – Mozart. Requiem KV 626 minor/D-moll, Kyrie). Both reached a sophisticated level of inhumanity.

However, the culmination occurred in the death of a L’vivate and a Ukrainian with a strange name Georgiy Gongadze. All of Ukraine and L’viv itself celebrated the New Year of 2001 despite the fact that Georgiy’s body remained unburied. Can one imagine this happening somewhere else? What happens to the dignity of a human being, even the one without a public name, when he/she goes dancing, having abandoned a dead person in the house?  Who celebrates the coming of a New Year and “new happiness” without giving a proper burial to the deceased first? Where are the limits to baseness in this society? How much more shame can it bear? Or, perhaps, there are no limits? These are the questions that can never be answered, unless the answer is that there are truly no limits.  

Nevertheless, it was not rebuke, but a dignified and almost gentle sadness that enveloped the city with the passing of Cardinal Ivan Myroslav Liubachivsky. This was a quiet and a simple human passing (Mozart. Requiem KV 626 minor/D-moll, Hostias) that was almost an exception to the kind of reality in which we live.

So what kind of a city do we live in? Most probably Andrukhovych, despite his strenuous efforts to come across as a carefree member of the playful Bu-Ba-Bu and a jester, was really the first one to perceive that scent – of Venetian Island of Death, the sweet and sickening breath of death under whose blows our gondola without oars slowly drifts into the realm of the chilling silence.

Most certainly, one can build one’s future even on this shaky foundation. This is precisely how Venice makes its living – selling its sublime dying to foreign tourists, beginning with Thomas Mann (Der Tod in Venedig) and Gustav Mahler (Mahler, Symphonie Nr. 4 G-dur, Ruhevoll.Poco adagio), and ending with Yuri Andrukhovych (Perverzion). It does business even with its own natives, such as Luchino Visconti, for instance, who reached a pinnacle of his career in movie-making by filming the renowned adaption La morte a Venezia.

Summarizing this chain of destruction and death as our legacy of the year, what conclusion should we draw? Evidently, the City and everything that it represented for the Ukrainians in the past sixty years has been once again reduced to nothing. It has expended its energy almost in vain. In contemporary Ukraine, some sort of state-building and society-building is underway, but L’viv’s cherished “Ukrainian idea” has absolutely nothing to do with this project. The managers of the latter only throw away to the periphery, such as L’viv, the debris of the wrecked political ships or decapitated bodies, identified with certainty of 99.6%.

On the other hand, where do funerals constitute major events? This only happens in the hopelessly far-away provinces that live from one religious holiday to another and from one funeral to the next.  

Nonetheless, what awaits us in this year, which has begun so inhumanely? Perhaps, it will be the year of definitive ruin for the truly no one’s hotel called Ukraine, overrun by a variety of riffraff? Or will it continue the same theme of the slow death of the city and its idea (Mozart. Requiem KV 626 minor/D-moll, Kyrie) in the Symphony “L’viv 2001”? However, first and foremost we have the duty to bury all of our deceased, so that, if nothing else, we could reclaim our right to be called “human.”

L’viv, January 14, 2001


Andrukhovych, Yuri. Perverzion. Trans. Michael M. Naydan. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2005.

Klenovich, Sebastian Fabian. Roxolania. Kyiv: Dnipro, 1987.