The Picture Show: NPR
Liliya Onyschenko stands in a cobbled 16th century square, bracing for the cold, scrolling through bad news on her phone – and cursing Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A razed 19th century wooden church in northern Ukraine. A bombed folk museum. A library with destroyed rare books. Onyschenko rattles off a list of Ukrainian sites damaged by Russian attacks. In addition to the loss of life across his country, the list makes Onyschenko really angry.
“I have dedicated my life to protecting these monuments,” says Onyschenko, head of historical preservation in Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine.
The old quarter of Lviv is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Parts of it date back to the 5th century. There is a church in almost every street and architecture from the medieval and Renaissance periods.
Onyschenko took NPR on a tour of what she’s doing to save it all.
In the courtyard of an Armenian church, Onyschenko’s team erects scaffolding around a giant Baroque altarpiece.
“Jesus has moved away for now! Jesus is gone,” says Alexander Ruchko in a rare moment of levity. Ruchko was a tourist guide in Lviv. Now he helps dismantle and put away all the artifacts he used to tell tourists about.
Statues of Jesus Christ have been removed from their crosses across the city. The paintings have been removed from the walls of the museum. They have all been hidden away for safekeeping in secret places underground.
Vitaliy Kulyk headed the Lviv tourist office. It is now a reception center for war evacuees. Kulyk worked 12 hours a day, pacing the streets of Lviv and taking stock of the metal statues in the city squares – Neptune with his trident, Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko with his arm raised – trying to figure out what the Russian bombs could do them.
“Usually the bombs make the temperature rise, and it burns all around,” Kulyk explains. He fears that the precious statues of Lviv will melt if they are bombed by the Russians.
So his team went to the local equivalent of Home Depot, bought some fireproof material and packed the statues – right on their pedestals.
Meanwhile, at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Lviv, a crane lifts workers up to tall stained glass windows, to cover them with plywood and aluminum.
These are areas that survived Nazi and Soviet occupation. The front lines of World War II went back and forth across Lviv.
Kulyk hopes that will not be the case in this war.
“Our army is doing very well, so I think the Russians won’t get here,” he said. “But I have a Ukrainian idiom: ‘Expect better but prepare for the worst. “”
Olena Lyssenko contributed to this report.