Lychakivsky Cemetery: A History Book of Stone

In death, Ukrainian ancestors are believed to reside in the fields, orchards, forests, and the skies of their homeland. The spirits assure a good harvest. As a gesture of thanks and to bring good fortune in the coming year, families gather grain from the fields to reside in a corner of the house during the Christmas Eve meal. For Ukrainians death is not simply a cold and lonely end to life. The dead are merely departed. No where is this sentiment more accurately displayed than in Lviv’s Lychakivsky Cemetery.

Officially designated a museum in 1991, the cemetery, one of the most beautiful in Europe reflects the tides of the region’s history. Winding through over 110 acres of wooded hills, the cemetery’s Gothic aura is the final resting place of over 400,000 people. The revered nationalist poet, Ivan Franko, is interned here alongside dozens of other famous Ukrainians and Polish leaders. Thousands of soldiers from the region’s many wars are also buried in this sprawling estate.

Established in 1786 after Austrian authorities prohibited burial at church cemeteries inside the city, the cemetery contains over 3,600 elaborate tombstones, pillars, and temples designed by prominent artists and architects. In a clearing, two marble monuments with epitaphs in Ukrainian and Polish mark the chaotic days near the end of World War I when both armies struggled to claim the city of Lviv as their own. Tombstones with the Soviet hammer-and-sickle emblem are erected next to graves with Christian crosses, an indication that Ukraine has always been a land of many masters.

Certainly, cemetery visitors will come away with a sense of history, yet, one cannot help be moved by the flowers and photographs that are still placed on markers to remember the dead of centuries gone by as well in this wild, haunting place.