Lviv Today, Ukraine Tomorrow
Lviv Today, Ukraine Tomorrow
Lviv Today Publisher Peter Dickinson reflects on Lviv's role as a model for Ukraine's European transformation
Almost every media outlet in Ukraine is financially dependent on a wealthy owner of one description or another. This applies equally to television, radio and print media. A handful of these outlets are periodically profitable. Most are not. Lviv Today is different. Ever since the magazine was launched in 2008, it has been a self-sustaining success story. This has been possible thanks to the efforts of an inspired editorial team, and the support of a wider business community that rapidly recognized the value of a city guide capable of introducing Lviv to international audiences.
Put simply, Lviv Today has prospered because so many people love Lviv. I should know - I am one of them. When I arrived in Ukraine in the late 1990s, I spent my first year in Lviv. It was just as fairytale beautiful and dizzily romantic then as it is now, but it had none of the self-confident polish and modern tourist conveniences it now boasts.
1990s Lviv was a secret city cordoned off from the outside world and trapped in a traumatic past which seemed to hold the whole city hostage. It was still deeply troubled by decades of savage and stultifying Soviet occupation - an experience that had radically altered the demographics of Lviv and left deep psychological wounds throughout local society. Leopolitans were still a ridiculously sophisticated and bohemian bunch, but they struggled with issues of identity and had yet to find their place in an independent Ukrainian state that had itself failed to meet expectations.
The Lviv of 1998 was a dark and sometimes dangerous place with an air of frontier town lawlessness always lurking just below the elegant and cultured surface. Habsburg facades spoke of the city's quintessentially European pedigree, but the street-level ambience often bore a closer resemblance to an Asian bazaar. There were only a handful of bars and restaurants to choose from. This limited selection of leisure options catered almost exclusively to the new rich of the city. Venue owners had little notion of the possibilities presented by a middle class clientele, never mind an international tourism industry. I can still remember fruitlessly trying to convince numerous bar proprietors to put TVs in their venues in order to screen 1998 World Cup matches. They thought it was a weird and stupid idea. People can watch football at home, they told me.
Over the intervening two decades, Lviv has grown and prospered in ways that would amaze anyone who last visited the city in the 1990s. Lviv is now Ukraine's undisputed tourism capital and an increasingly popular destination among international visitors. The city has so many cozy restaurants and coffee shops that some people refer to it as Europe's Cafe Capital. This process began in the early 2000s and gained considerable momentum following the arrival of Mayor Sadoviy. It was Lviv's transformation into a tourist magnet that served as the inspiration behind the launch of Lviv Today magazine.
My post-Lviv career had focused on the English-language media in the Ukrainian capital. For the first time, there now appeared to an opportunity for English-language media to prosper outside Kyiv. I had moved from Western Ukraine to Kyiv in 1999, but I never lost my love for Lviv and would frequently return to visit old friends. By the mid-2000s, it was obvious that major changes were finally taking place in the city. Confidence was high amid the national renaissance following the 2004 Orange Revolution, while the removal of visa restrictions for European and North American visitors had opened up a whole world of new opportunities.
Lviv Today was launched in spring 2008. The initial response was hugely gratifying, with the local authorities, cultural and business communities welcoming the publication enthusiastically. This overwhelming local support has been a constant feature ever since.
We have always aimed to show the very best of life in Lviv, and this optimistic perspective has provided inspiration for others to innovate and improve the city. Our ultimate objective has always been to share our passion for Lviv with international audiences. Over the years, the magazine has enjoyed a reputation as an unofficial calling card for the city. This is a role we take great pride in and regard as a huge responsibility.
Representing Lviv in a positive light is not difficult when there is so much that is progressive taking place in the city. Today's Lviv is a model for the whole of Ukraine. It is an internationally known city with a growing middle class, rising levels of international investment, a thriving tourism sector, and a self-confidence rooted in a strong sense of identity. All the ingredients for this success are also present elsewhere in Ukraine. Hopefully the rest of the country will catch up with Lviv in the coming years. I look forward to the day when every Ukrainian city has a publication introducing it to the world. We at Lviv Today will be happy to share our experience with anyone looking to boost Ukraine's profile by adding to the country's English-language offerings. But there is actually no great secret to our success - it is all about loving Lviv.