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The City and the Writer: In Lviv with Iryna Vikyrchak

By Nathalie Handal


If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


Can you describe the mood of Lviv as you feel/see it?

Lviv is all about the stone; stone is the core element of this city. Thus, Lviv ­is the clicking of heels in the small hours, the rhythmic sound of somebody’s way to work, which jumps between the medieval kamienice and disappears in the fog. Lviv is about a constant type of weather, when it is cloudy, calm, and about to rain. My favorite kind of weather, actually, especially when it comes to clothing: layered sweaters, light jackets, scarves, hats, and an umbrella. You’d better carry one with you in this city, even if it’s a sunny morning. The best experience of Lviv is in fall, early and mid fall. 

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

Last summer I spent all of July at an international summer school with these wonderful people from Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. We were studying Jewish history and culture in Galicia and we created a street festival as our final project. It was heartbreaking to part.

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

If you are in Lviv, you have to take your eyes away from the uneven cobalt-stone ground and look up. There are a lot of small wonders up there, just above eye-level. And watch for Jewish heritage—it is everywhere, though visible only to those who want to see it.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

Stanislaw Lem—I am sure you are well familiar with this classic science-fiction writer. It would have been his ninety-fifth anniversary this year. Once I was walking, rather wandering about with a good friend of mine, Oleksii Chupa. Chupa is a young writer from Donbass, and sometime after the outburst of the military conflict, he had to flee, leaving his library behind. “Look,” he told me at some point during our walk, “This is the house where Lem lived.” It is on Lepkoho Street, but there is no sign or memorial there.

The list of contemporary authors who live in Lviv and who are worth reading is rather long: Nalatka Snadianko, Victor Neborak, Mariana Savka, Victoria Amelina, Yuri Vynnychuk, Marianna Kijanowska, and Bohdan Kolomiychuk. And, of course, Jimi Hendrix live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov is a must to learn about the city’s topography.

Is there a place here you return to often?

There is not the place. There is an event connected to many places in the town. It is the Book Publishers’ Forum and Literature Festival. Every September, year after year, I come back to Lviv during the forum, and the city changes its face drastically. Readers from the whole country come to meet their favorite writers, hundreds hurrying along the streets from one venue to another, having coffees on the terraces, smoking on the staircase of the Potocki Palace. It been like this for twenty-three years, and now Lviv is the UNESCO City of Literature and it definitely deserves it.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

In the heart of the old city, at the dead end of the Armenian Street, there is café with a gallery and tables with green umbrellas. At the big round table in the corner, the faces don’t change; the same people run the place, and literary and musical people work and chill out there all day long. The café is named “Pid Klepsydroju,” and only readers will recognize that it is an allusion to the writing of Bruno Schulz’s Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Schulz was a Polish writer, and Lviv—being a contemporary Ukrainian city—is, to a large extent, a child of Polish culture, historically shaped in a specific way that is different than other Ukrainian cities today. Visit the “Pid Klepsydroju,” most known by the name of the gallery there, ­“Dzyga,” and you will meet all the writers who are currently in town.

Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

My personal hidden city within Lviv is my best friend’s place. She lives in one of the two apartments in the old Polish villa on Konovaltsia Street. About a hundred years ago, it was the edge of the city, where the rich aristocracy built their palaces and villas. It is a very quiet street—straight and light. My friend’s kitchen is our own republic, the coziest one, even cozier than multiple coffee places downtown, many of them extremely inventive, some even bizarre. Like this place on Marker Square called “Something Interesting”—to get there you have to find a narrow tunnel which will take you to a small courtyard between the tenement houses. It is a secret hipster place with a glass workshop next door.

Where does passion live here?

Passion lives in the hidden courtyards in the old town. Once when I was walking around the place early in the morning, long before the city was awake—coming with the night train grants you this opportunity—I encountered an old lady. She was sitting in front of an open window, brushing her long white hair.

What is the title of one of your works about Lviv and what inspired it exactly?

“The White Plaster Cube,” “Street with Puddles,” and “Verbal Jazz.”

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Lviv does an outside exist?”

Lviv is a stone island with its own invisible castle on the hill above the city. It is at the same time global and conservative, open and isolated. And I like it this way.


Iryna Vikyrchak is a Ukrainian author, cultural manager, and literature promoter. She has published two books of poetry. She is the founder of the Intermezzo Short Story Festival in Vinnytsia; program director of the literature tours Cultour.Ua; creative writing lecturer for the course Tvorchopys; curator of Ukrainian programs at literature festivals in Amsterdam (Read My World) and Cracow (Joseph Conrad Festival); and former director of the International Literature Corporation “Meridian Czernowitz” (festival, publishing house, and residency for European poets in Chernivtsi). She obtained a Gaude Polonia scholarship in Warsaw (2014), and is currently artist-in-residence in Vienna (2016) and a PhD student in literature at Chernivtsi National Yuri Fedkovych University.


Published Dec 19, 2016   Copyright 2016 Nathalie Handal

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