A knock on the large, unmarked wooden door opposite the Lviv City Hall. A man in military uniform with a German rifle answers. he asked for the password.
“Slava Ukraine”. Glory to Ukraine.
“The hero is Slava,” he replied, opening a hidden passageway behind a wall of books.
Men in uniform are not security guards. He serves as maître d’ at Kryevka, a popular themed restaurant that evokes Ukraine’s armed struggle for independence against Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany during World War II.
This cavernous restaurant, decorated like a memorabilia-filled bunker, has been in business for over 15 years. And despite the brutal and bloody history as a backdrop, the atmosphere remains festive and convivial. Patrons still order colorful vodka shots row by row, and the brick walls are still adorned with shards of his 1940s era, radios, maps, cannons, and lanterns.
But as the war with Russia escalated, the space in the relatively safe western city of Lviv took on a new resonance. At a restaurant I recently visited, Ukrainians filled the tables, instead of the previously large number of foreign tourists. Food and drink were enjoyed by locals, soldiers on leave and families fleeing bombed cities elsewhere in the country. Kids roamed around trying on a collection of helmets and jackets and dueling with antique guns.
Sitting at a table with her family, Alina Brauewska came from a nearby town to celebrate her 32nd birthday. “This is an escape for us,” she said.
Active duty soldiers have left hundreds of modern military patches, the insignia of their unit. In the center of the exhibit is a framed exhibit belonging to the Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, General Valery Zurzhny.
Manager Ivan Mizychuk said the restaurant invited him to visit. The four-star general responded by signing his name and sending his insignia along with a huge blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag with a heart drawn in red ink.
“He said he would come to celebrate if we won,” Mishku said.
At a large table with fat sausages, burnt vegetables and potato pancakes, Yulia Volkova sat with her husband, children and a few friends. The family has been renting an apartment in Lviv since fleeing the battleground city of Kharkov in the northeast of the country last March, joining some 150,000 displaced people who have also settled here. there is
They have dined at the restaurant several times. “We love this place,” Volkova said through a translator.
They were grateful to be in Lviv. Volkova said the Russian fighters seized their land and agricultural business and killed her daughter’s classmates as they came out of the church after praying.
“They killed everyone who got in their way. We saw it ourselves,” she said, pointing two fingers to her eyes.
Her friend put down a mug of beer, pulled out her cell phone, and showed her a video of her home’s pockmarked wall filled with bullet holes and debris.
Sievda Kerimova had only recently arrived in Lviv from Kiev for happier reasons. She was visiting her husband, a 26-year-old military man who had taken ten days off.
At a shooting range in one of the canteens, the couple paid 75 hryvnia (about $2) for Kerimova to fire 10 plastic bullets at a paper target engraved with a statue of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. rice field. In another room, guests could aim at an oversized punching bag with his face stenciled on it.
Kryivka is one of several themed restaurants and gift shops run by Ukrainian restaurant group !FEST. Upstairs is another restaurant decorated like a Masonic clubhouse, the most expensive Galician restaurant. Around the corner, Lviv His Coffee Mine is a huge underground coffee house-cum-shop where patrons can wear miner’s helmets to dig coffee beans and sip lattes.
The restaurant does not care about historical accuracy. In Kryevka, pervasive patriotism and general revelry overshadow its initially ugly record. ukrainian rebels, The organization, which led the fight for Ukrainian independence in the 1940s, was made up of extremists who slaughtered Poles and Jews in an ethnic cleansing campaign.
But remembering Ukraine’s struggle for independence is one way people today express pride in their heritage and support for the war effort.
Food and entertainment are on the menu, not history lessons.
As part of the evening’s celebrations, a search was carried out for Russian spies, or “Moscari,” a derogatory term used by Ukrainians to refer to Russians. The game was led by a group of waiters in military uniforms. Guests were laughed and interrogated, then taken to a makeshift prison and asked to sing a patriotic song before being returned to a table.
At one point the wait staff lined up like an army formation. As the crowd gathered and cheered, the leader quizzed the assembled crowd on how many Russian tanks and helicopters had been shot down since the war began.
The short performance ended with staff and patrons repeating “Slava Ukraine”. Heroyam Slava,” in unison.
That moment legendary scene From the movie Casablanca, Victor Laszlo leads a crowd at Rick’s Cafe Americain to sing La Marseillaise against a Nazi officer. But the feeling was real.
Meanwhile, a barely noticeable wall-mounted TV was quietly broadcasting the evening news: an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the day’s Russian air raids.
Unlike other street vendors and restaurants that were asked to close during the three missile alerts that day, Underground Krifka was able to continue serving pierogies and vodka.
Another evening, Vitaly Joutnishko, with a sling around his right arm, visited the restaurant for the second time with his wife Alina and four-year-old daughter Kiza. He had spent two weeks in Lviv on military medical leave recovering from injuries sustained when a shell hit his trenches.
When I asked him why he wanted to relax in a fake bunker after being in one near the front line, Joutnishko laughed.
“This is entertainment,” he said.
So was he going to target Putin’s target at the range?
“I’m not interested in taking pictures,” he said. “I have real goals.”