Four detained over incident at Polish cemetery in Lviv

It was only in 2015 that the Lions returned to the Lviv Eaglets’ cemetery. Photo: PAP/Darek Delmanowicz

The plywood casing of two Lviv Lions that guard the Polish Lviv Eaglets’ military cemetery was damaged by four individuals on Sunday.

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Mykhailo Nahay – the head of the Lychakiv Cemetery, which also encompasses the Lviv Eaglets’ military cemetery, informed about the incident, saying that the damage is minimal as the perpetrators managed to break off only a 35 sq cm of the casing.

Meanwhile, the Lviv City Council informed that “around 2:50 pm, local time, “the security guards saw unknown young people via CCTV, who attempted to damage the Lions’ casings. These individuals were detained and the police are investigating the spot.”

Another incident of similar type took part in the night of December 4 and 5; however, that time, the perpetrators were neither revealed nor caught. Earlier on November 22, three Polish students were stopped from firing flares, an attempt that was penalised by a Ukrainian court with a PLN 1,200 (EUR 280) fine.

In July, Lviv’s court fined a Polish national who had damaged the plywood casing and later said he had done that to “liberate” the Lviv Lions.

The incidents were condemned by the Polish Care for Military Graves in Lviv Association (TOGWwL), that deems the cemetery not a place for political demonstrations and stresses that incidents of this kind undermine Lviv’s Poles relations with the Ukrainian authorities.

According to the TOGWwL, the Lions are encased because they await renovation. “The Lviv Eaglets’ Cemetery is a place of prayer and reconciliation between the peoples of Poland and Ukraine,” stated the Association.

Historical background

Lviv was a Polish city from the 14th century until 1772, when it became a part of the Austrian Empire, seized during the First Partition of Poland, carried out jointly with the Russian empire and Prussia.

The dramatic events of WWI revived hopes Lviv might return to Poland. However, on November 1, 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the establishment of the West Ukrainian People's Republic was proclaimed, and the Ukrainian units of the Austro-Hungarian army took control of the city.

The Polish citizens of Lviv opposed the idea of the city being part of a newborn Ukraine, which led to Polish-Ukrainian battles later known in Polish history as “the Defense of Lviv.” To this day, around 3,000 Polish teenagers, who fought for the city in 1918-1919 and in 1920 during the Polish-Bolshevik War, are buried in the Lviv Eaglets’ cemetery.

After WWII, Lviv became part of the USSR. The Lion sculptures were removed by the Soviet authorities from the cemetery in 1971. Following the Soviet Union’s collapse, Lviv became part of the newly established state of Ukraine on August 24, 1991. It was only in 2015 that the Lions returned to the Lviv Eaglets’ cemetery thanks to the endeavour of the Cultural Heritage Foundation and the TOGWwL.

In October 2018, the provincial council in Lviv requested removal of the sculptures, calling them “symbols of the Polish occupation of Lviv.”