A place of memory. Lviv’s government is creating a «new» military cemetery

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Lviv government plans to create a new military cemetery on the site of former military graves known to Lviv residents as the «Mars Field.» The old burials will move instead. Lviv Now tells the story of this cemetery and what the new memorial complex might look like.
Photo: Lychakiv Cemetery Museum’s website

Photo: Lychakiv Cemetery Museum’s website

The history of Lviv’s Mars Field dates back to the last century when it was a burial place for soldiers of the Austrian army and the Allies who died in the First World War. By 1927, there were almost 5,000 individual graves on the field.

In 1946-1947, the Soviets exhumed the bodies and built a cemetery for Soviet and NKVD soldiers on the site. In the 70s of the last century, they created a memorial on the «Mars Field,» and they reburied the victims of Soviet terror from the Zamarstynivka prison.

Photo: Lychakiv Cemetery Museum’s website

«In the interwar years, the graves from the First World War were moved from this part of the territory, and Soviets disregarded them: the Soviet authorities drove tractors to the burial site of the Austrian army soldiers, who were people of different nationalities, destroyed everything and began to carry out military and private burials on top of it,» said Liliia Onyshchenko, advisor to the Mayor of Lviv on the preservation of cultural heritage.

«In 1946-1947, the Soviets exhumed the burial. They established a cemetery on this site for Soviet army soldiers who died in the Second World War and NKVD [People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, government security service] troops who died during punitive operations against the civilian population of Galicia and in battles with the Ukrane’s Partisan Army. Gradually, identical concrete headstones filled the cemetery.»

The memorial received its current appearance in 1974, designed by Andrii Shuliar, Vasyl Kamenshchyk, and Volodymyr Boyko. They formed the monument with three rows of black granite slabs with the victims’ names and two rows of red slabs between them. It symbolized the ribbon of the Guards.

Photo: Lychakiv Cemetery Museum’s website

Exhumations today

The search for graves in part of field No. 86A is now nearing completion. Here, the «Destiny» Memorial and Search Centre, which carries out work at the cemetery, has already found the remains of 206 people. These are graves from the Second World War and only a few from the First World War, which are in the upper part of the fenced area. In the lower part, there are graves of the post-war period. Most of them are NKVD soldiers who died in battles with the UPA.

Currently, researchers are completing the first stage of exhumation on the part of the lawn that is a fenced-off part of the field, said Svyatoslav Sheremeta, head of the «Destiny» Memorial and Search Centre.

We hope to complete the work on this area in the coming days and move on to the second half of the lawn. It is difficult to say what kind of graves are in the second section of the cemetery. We assumed that there would be mostly graves from the First World War. However, we can see that there are also graves from the post-war period, i.e., from 1945, 1946, 1947.»

The graves of the First World War soldiers are to be moved nearby to fields 84 and 85, where we built a memorial complex for modern Heroes of Ukraine. The surviving concrete crosses will use in the complex.

«These ancient graves are currently being preserved, but we will reburied them after all stages of research. The remains of the bodies of those who died during the First World War will move to fields 84 and 85 of the Lychakiv cemetery, where a memorial complex will build,» said Svyatoslav Sheremeta.

Instead, the Soviet-era graves will be stored in a specific depository until will make the relevant decisions.

The exhumation began only in March this year. Although it had been discussed earlier, says Yevhen Boyko, director of the Humanitarian Policy Department of the Lviv City Council.

The exhumation had to be thoroughly prepared, including research work in the field and the archives, a qualitative study, and all the necessary approvals at the local and state levels.

«We accelerated the process after the start of Russia’s large-scale aggression, as we began to bury our Heroes at the Mars Field.» told the official. 

Photo: Hromadske TV

In May 2022, Mykola Bandrivskyi, Doctor of Historical Sciences, also spoke about the need for exhumation in Lychakiv. According to him, if Ukrainian heroes continue to be buried on the «Mars Field,» one day, their graves will be closely adjacent to the Soviet-era military graves.

«Firstly, these new burials are being carried out in an extremely inaccessible place – at the bottom of the hill on which the ‘Field of Mars’ is located. Secondly, one could accept that our Heroes are buried in the existing military cemetery, where thousands of soldiers and officers of the Soviet army lie in rows under polished granite slabs with appropriate inscriptions and symbols. However, the question arises: if Ukrainian heroes continue to be buried on the «Mars Field,» sooner or later, their graves will be closely adjacent to the aforementioned Soviet-era military graves. Is this good or bad? I honestly do not know,» said the historian.

New memorial complex

The Lviv City Council plans to build a Memorial Complex for the Heroes of Ukraine, including a park and square in memory of the Heroes and a space for memorial events on the sites where excavated ancient graves are. They are currently planning to announce an international architectural competition for this construction. As Anton Kolomeytsev, the chief architect of Lviv, the participants of the architectural competition should offer a vision of the entire 2.8-hectare space.

«In addition to the military graves of the Heroes of Ukraine, we want to have a park in memory of the Heroes and a memorial square. This space will become a place of comprehension of our history, a place of memory. We are looking forward to militarily restrained and imaginatively strong solutions. We have a general concept of a «Mars field.» According to it, the Heroes will bury in a strip along the southern part of the field, and then everything to the north will be a park of memory. The paved area will remain a square where more people can hold memorial days and gather,» told the architect. 

Anton Kolomeitsev noted that there is room for three hundred graves on this territory. On the one hand, there will be the graves of the newest Heroes. On the other, closer to the residential area, there will be a memorial square towards Mechnikova Street.

Conditional picture

The shape of a Cossack cross is characteristic of such burials. The contestants have the opportunity to use this solution as a basic one or to propose an alternative.

«We see a large space that should be ideologically and historically filled. Minimalist and restrained solutions should convey certain meanings to visitors. It should be a place of silence, reflection, and memory in a landscaped green form. We believe that this complex, like the Heavenly Hundred, should be both a memorial and an example of modern memorial architecture.»

The chief architect of Lviv adds that the memorial square will be a significant element. Memorial days and gatherings of people are to be held there, so the space needs to be adapted for this purpose. The competition will also include the principles of the junction with the adjacent streets and offer people a place to use daily, including pedestrian spaces, alleys, and benches.

Currently, the city is preparing solutions to put forward for technical specifications. It is too early to talk about the timing, First Deputy Mayor of Lviv Andriy Moskalenko told Lviv Now. We can not reveal all stages of the work publicity because some solutions will be closed.

We do not know yet where to move the remains of the Soviet soldiers, but the idea of the Heroes of Ukraine memorial, according to researchers and the authorities, is a solution to the problem of a decent burial for our defenders. Here the fallen Heroes of our time are said goodbye almost every day, so let’s hope that we will be able to honor their memory appropriately soon.

Translated by Yulian Lahun

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.

 

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