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Lemberg/Lviv today

Lemberg (Ukrainian: Lviv), (Russian: Lvov), (Polish: Lwow), the former capital of Austrian Galicia (1772-1919), has been in the independent Ukraine since 1992, being the "chief city of Western Ukraine"[1]. It is 212 miles SE of Cracow; 291 miles west of Kiev; 340 miles NE of Vienna, and 460 miles to Odessa in the south.

In 1905 the town’s suburbs were Halych (named after the surname of the ancient Princes), Lyezakow, Cracow, and Zólkiew, when the city was said to have 160,000 inhabitants, a quarter of whom were Jews.[2] However in the Austrian Census of 1910 the population for Lemberg is given as 206,574.[3] In 2022 the population was 717.803.[4]


Austrian Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, 1900
Lemberg Opera House in 1908
Interior of Lemberg Opera House
Austrian defence of Lemberg in The Great War

Lemberg is one of those cities which has changed hands several times in history. Founded in 1256 by Prince Danielo Romanovich Halych, Prince of Galicia (r.1245-64), and said to be named after his son, Liv (the Lion), it has historically been the chief centre of Galicia. It has a strategic position in that it controls the east-west routes and passes across the Carpathian Mountains. It was captured by a united force of Lithuanians and Poles in 1340 [5] but was subsequently "reduced to the last extremity" by rebel Cossacks and Tartars, being forced to redeem itself with a large sum of money. In 1672 it was besieged in vain by the Turks.[6] The Hetman Jablonowski again defended it against the Turks in 1695.[7] In 1704 it was taken by storm by the forces of King Charles XII of Sweden.[8] Napoleon, having defeated (temporarily) Austria, gave Lemberg to his fleeting Grand Duchy of Warsaw, and in 1815 (just prior to reversion to Austria) it was described as "a town of Poland, capital of Red Russia, seated in the Palatinate of Lemberg, on the river Pelteu. It is pretty well fortified, and defended by two citadels, one of which is seated on an eminence without the town. The square, the churches and the public buildings are magnificent; and it is a large and rich trading place."[9]

Austrian rule

In the 1772 partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Lemberg fell to Austria, who made it the capital of their resurrected Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, which became one of the titles of the Emperor, its area covering some 30,000 square miles, similar in size to Scotland or Bavaria.[10] The Austrians proceeded to turn Lemberg into a modern city, "deeply influenced by the enlightened reforms of Emperor Joseph II"[11], who visited the city in 1780. The original university, founded in 1661 was replaced by a new one founded by him, opening in 1784, which in 1905 had 2000 students. From October 16 - 20, 1851, the Emperor Franz-Joseph visited the city and the university, (for decades this Emperor had allowed himself only one mistress, Anna Nakowska, the wife of a Galician railway official), and he visited the city again in September 1880.[12]

Lemberg became Galicia's principal centre of urban life and of refined culture, and developed a unique personality, famed for its lively café life. By the late 19th century Lemberg had found its way into the leading European tourist guides.[13] As in Vienna, a Ringstrasse was built which was embellished with four handsome monumental fountains, upon which the very fine Rathaus (Town Hall) was built 1828-37, with a 260 foot high tower. To the south of the town was the extensive Kilinski Park, a favourite promenade of the citizens before The Great War, with a statue of Jan Kilinski (1760-1819) the Polish patriot, by the sculptor Markowski.[14] In 1895 an Ethnographical Museum was founded in Lemberg.[15]

For the first century of Austrian rule, Vienna ruled Galicia through governors resident in Lemberg. Municipal autonomy was introduced in 1870, and the following year a separate Ministry of Galician Affairs was also set up in Vienna.[16] By 1914 Lemberg was the fourth largest city of the Habsburg monarchy.[17]


In the mid 19th century the Austrian Empire railway network soon arrived and in 1846 the Kaiser-Ferdinands-Nordbahn linked Vienna with Lemberg,[18] and soon connecting lines from Russia reached the city also. In 1990 there were nine railways converging on the city.[19]

Further reforms

The Austrians pressed on with their reforms. The number of schools multiplied greatly. Most of the lands in Galicia had remained in the hands of a score of powerful Polish magnates, who had assumed Austrian titles and attended Court in Vienna, and who ran seriously feudal estates which included serfs. However in 1848 the Emperor abolished serfdom.[20] The Austrians dramatically improved healthcare in Lemberg and the surrounding province in the 19th century. The death rate from smallpox was progressively lowered from 4.82 per thousand in 1873 to an average of only 0.54 in 1888-94. Mean death rates similarly declined, and by 1900 most county and market towns had at least one medical practitioner.[21]

The natives in Galicia were unhappy with the old Polish influence and dominance, and in the mid-19th century The Supreme Ruthenian Council (Holovna Ruska Rada) was establised to gain influence with the Austrian Government and to prevent the Poles from gaining any monopoly on language and educational issues. By 1907 universal suffrage for elections to the Imperial Reichsrat in Vienna had come, and Galician Deputies took their place alongside the other peoples of the Empire. In 1908 Galicia sent the largest of all delegations, in brilliant costumes, to the Emperor's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.[22]

The 20th century

West Ukraine today
St. George's Cathedral, Lemberg

The Great War

With the declaration of War upon the Austro-Hungarian Empire by Russia in August 1914 Galicia and its capital city found themselves strategically exposed. Fear of the "Russian steamroller" was great and no-one wanted Galicia annexed to Russia. The bulk of Galician men who enrolled for military service did so in the Imperial and Royal Army and a Ukrainian Army Corps was established. On August 30, 1914, the Russians broke through the Austrian Second Army and a few days later occupied Lemberg. The Austrians recovered it on June 22, 1915.[23]

In 1916 the Russian General Brusilov's offensive again took Lemberg, but briefly as they were soon driven back, this time for good. In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 Galicia was reconfirmed as a Habsburg possession. However the socialist revolutions at the end of that year forced the disintegration of the empire; and in November 1918 there was a notorious Pogrom in Lemberg.[24]

In 1919 Lemberg & Galicia were removed from the Austrian Empire by the victorious plutocratic Western Allies, partitioned, and then awarded in a new League of Nations 25 year Mandate to the new Poland, who gave Galicia the unhistorical name of 'Eastern Little Poland'. Administration and education were strongly Polonized and the Ukrainian language and culture suppressed. The Poles ruled with a harsh military presence, putting down strikes and unrest in 1931 and 1934 - in the latter year Ukrainian patriots assassinated Bronisaw Pieracki, the Minister of the Interior.[25]

World War II

But in 1939 Galicia was seized by the Soviet Union. There was significant warfare in the Lemberg vicinity during World War II, and in the 1939-45 period Galicia belonged to that slice of Europe which suffered greater human losses than anywhere in previous history.[26]. In the period before the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in mid-1941, Lemberg (now Lvov) became the headquarters of a brutal Communist regime enforcing Stalinist norms. Up to a million people were condemned to Soviet concentration camps or to exile in the depths of Siberia of Central Asia.[27] In Lvov largely Jewish (according to the populance) Bolshevik Commissars had established a division of the NKVD, and proceeded to incarcerate, torture and murder thousands, of people. When the city fell to the German army in 1941 the local populance, who cheered them into town, told the officers of their missing families, friends and relatives. The Germans besieged the NKVD HQ and eventually the Bolsheviks surrendered. The Germans then supervised these monsters to bring out of the building the bodies, of which there were hundreds, and line them up in the street for identification.[28] The German Waffen-SS regiment raised a division of Ukrainian volunteers in Galicia, the XV Waffen-SS Galizien, exclusively for military duties against the Communist Soviet Union.[29]


In 1945 Galicia/Ukraine was again under Soviet rule. Ukrainians continued to fight for their freedom from the Soviet Union. One of the publications of the United Kingdom's Western Goals Institute, a constant supporter of anti-communist Ukrainian nationalism, reported that on November 1, 1988, a day when Ukrainians honour their dead, between 15,000 and 20,000 people attended a requiem mass in Lviv, at the Yanivsk cemetery, the first time such a ceremony was not broken up by the KGB. Wreaths were placed at the grave of the "Sichovi Striltsi", the Ukrainian unit formed in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914. After the Great War, this unit was actively involved in the Ukrainian liberation struggle from 1918 to 1921.[30]


The son of the Police Director of Lemberg, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-95), had studied in Graz and made his name as a writer of short stories inspired by Galician folklore. His trademark work, however, Venus in Pelz ('Venus in Furs', 1869), explored his sexual proclivities and gave rise to the famous psychiatric term of 'masochism'.[31]

It is said that no-one was more influential in the long run upon Galicia and Lemberg culture than Mikhail Hrushevsky (1866-1934), the founding father of Ukrainian history. Though employed in St. Petersburg, Hrushevsky could only publish freely in Lemberg, and his Traditional Scheme of Russian History (1904) demolished the widespread Russo-centric view that Moscow and its successors had been the sole legitimate heirs of Kievan Rus'. The Ukrainian Awakening was largely due to his works and those of his disciple, Ivan Franco (1856-1916), who became one of the fathers of modern Ukrainian literature, alongside Taras Shevchenko, the poet. For the Jews, Meir Balaban 91877-1942), a graduate of Lemberg, wrote a series of important works on the Jews of Krakow, Lemberg and Lublin, huge communities, earning the reputation as the pioneer of Polish-Jewish history.[32] The late 20th century ultra-pro-Polish (but English) historian, Norman Davies, waxes lyrical on the Polish influences in Galicia and Lemberg at the expense of all others.[33]


In 1815 it had a Roman Catholic Archbishop, and an Armenian as well as a Russian Bishop; “but Protestants are not tolerated.”[34] By 1905[35] there were fourteen Roman Catholic churches, a Greek, an Armenian, and, by then, a Protestant church, two synagogues, and several Roman Catholic and Greek convents.Of particular note:

  • The Roman Catholic cathedral was built in the 15th century in late-Gothic style and was restored in the 18th century in Rococo style.
  • The Armenian Cathedral is also 15th century in Byzantine style; in front of it is a statue of St.Christopher.
  • The Dominican Church stands on a height in the Georgs-Platz and contains within it a monument to Countess Dunin-Borkowska, by Thorvaldsen.
  • St.George's Ukrainian-Greek Orthodox cathedral, built 1744-60.

Other buildings of note[36]

  • In 1877 the Austrians constructed a handsome Polytechic Institute in the Georgs-Platz, which was well-equipped and contained a large chemical-technical laboratory.
  • In Slowacki Strasse, opposite the Park, they also built a Hall of the Estates in 1877-81, from a design by Hochberger, which contained in its session-room a painting my Matejko of The Lublin Union of 1567.
  • The hospital, with its four towers was constructed in Kleparowska Strasse.
  • The very splendid (still extant) Opera House (architects: Helmer & Fellner[37]) was also constructed. Interestingly it was noted in 1905 that they performed Polish-Italian operas here from time to time, the solos being in Italian and the chorus in Polish!
  • Just south of the Opera was built an Industrial Museum, with a free library.
  • Ossolinski’s National Institute was situated in the Halych suburb. It contained a library, relating chiefly to the literature and history of Poland, and collections of pictures, antiquities, coins, etc.
  • The Dzieduszycki Museum contained important natural history collections.


  1. Davies, Norman, Vanished Kingdoms, London, 2011, p.441. ISBN:978-1-846-14338-0
  2. Baedeker, Karl, Austria-Hungary, London, 1905, p.283.
  3. Steed, H.Wickham, Phillips, Walter Alison, & Hannay, David, Austria Hungary and Poland, London, 1914, p.145.
  4. https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/ukraine-population
  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, 1990, vol.7, p.581.
  6. Encyclopaedia Britannica 5th edition, vol.xi, Edinburgh, 1815, p.756.
  7. Baedeker, 1905, p.283.
  8. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1815, p.756.
  9. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1815, p.756.
  10. Davies, 2011, p.449-50.
  11. Davies, 2011, 451.
  12. http://www.austro-hungarian-army.co.uk/kaiser.htm
  13. Davies, 2011, pps: 454/459/468.
  14. Baedeker, 1905, p.284.
  15. Figes, Orlando, A People's Tragedy - The Russian Revolution 1891 - 1924. London, 1996, p.72n. ISBN 0-224-04162-2
  16. Davies, 2011, pps: 459/469/470.
  17. Shermer, David, World War 1, London, 1973, p.53, ISBN:0-7064-0245-6
  18. Davies, 2011, p.453, where he cites a well-known travel writer who said Lemberg was "half-way to Asia"!
  19. ’’Encyclopaedia Britannica’’, 15th edition, 1990, vol.7, p.581.
  20. Davies, 2011, pps: 455/465.
  21. Komlos, John, editor, Economic Development in the Habsburg Monarchy and in the Successor States, Columbia University Press, New York, 1990, p.2-3, "Health Care in Rural Eastern Galicia in the Late 19th Century" by Stella Hryniuk.
  22. Davies, 2011, p.470-1.
  23. Shermer, 1973, pps:53 & 112.
  24. Davies, 2011, p.477.
  25. Davies, 2011, p.477.
  26. Davies, 2011, p.478.
  27. Davies, 2011, p.478-9.
  28. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyGDl-UOyKE
  29. Davies, 2011, p.479.
  30. Young European, Newsletter of Young Europeans for World Freedom, December 1988, p.3.
  31. Davies, 2011, p.467
  32. Davies, 2011, p.466-7.
  33. Davies, 2011.
  34. ’’Encyclopaedia Britannica’’ 1815, p.756.
  35. Baedeker, 1905, p.284.
  36. Baedeker, 1905, p.284.
  37. Hubman, Franz, The Habsburg Empire, Vienna & London, 1971, p.271.