Beckett Street Cemetery - Twinned with Lviv Necropolis?

By Sylvia M. Barnard

Members may remember how, In the days when I used to be responsible for the production of this newsletter, I often included a piece on cemeteries I had recently visited in other parts of Europe or further afield.

Readers may be interested in a short account of the fascinating cemetery in Lviv, Ukraine, which was on my itinerary in August this year. Lemberg in Galicia in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Polish Lwow, Lvov under the USSR and now Lviv in the language of independent Ukraine - the city’s history is typical of the many-layered past of central Europe. Our guidebook said the cemetery was unmissable, so David and I made our way on foot out through the quiet, leafy university quarter, full of well-maintained and stylish nineteenth-century buildings, to the Gothick gates and walls of the huge burial ground. It was thronged with visitors, but sadly, there was no information whatsoever available in English, so apart from the short piece in the guidebook and a lucky knowledge of the Cyrillic script and a few words of Russian (similar to Ukrainian), we were floundering!

By an Imperial decree in the late 18th century, cemeteries were to be established outside the densely inhabited city. This one is also known as Lychakiv Cemetery, from the name of the nearby village, which (like Burmantofts, once far from the crowded centre of Leeds) is now part of the city. The oldest monuments date back to 1786, and there are said to be over 3,000 memorials in total. The headstones, sculptures and mausolea climb, profuse and higgledy-piggledy, over a picturesque hill with splendid views of Lviv. There are wonderful works of art - sculptured figures burst forth from tombstones, beautiful girls lie draped on couches as though turned to stone as they sleep, heroes, artists, angels,crosses are everywhere.

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A casket in a sea of knotweed

There is a large military cemetery with row upon row of pristine white headstones, each engraved with an obviously Polish name. This puzzled us until we could return to home and Google, where we discovered that a bitter war had been fought between Ukrainians and Poles for control of the city at the end of the Great War (Lviv itself was 60% Polish, though the surrounding area was inhabited mainly by Ukrainians). The Poles won, but were then involved in a struggle with the Bolsheviks from 1919 to 1921, and many further burials are from this time. Under Stalin the Polish war graves decayed or were destroyed; however, in an act of reconciliation the military cemetery was restored and was opened in 2005 by the presidents of both Ukraine and Poland. (Sadly, this gesture was not made without considerable opposition within Ukraine.) Like Beckett Street, Lychakiv Cemetery has its problems of maintenance: overgrown vegetation (including our old friend Japanese knotweed) and crumbling tombs (the steep hillsides don’t help). But we saw no litter, and no obvious evidence of vandalism. Similarities and differences ... Lviv necropolis and Beckett Street Cemetery ... Rest in peace!

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Prometheus and friends