Debunking Russian Propaganda: What Happens When You Speak Russian in Lviv?
We'll be taking a look at one of Kremlin's most common propaganda narratives about Ukraine. Russian media reports allege that Russian speakers are treated differently in western Ukraine. Watch what happened when UATV's reporter Yuliya Bil hit the streets of Lviv speaking Russian
“We are at the very heart of Lviv, on Ploshcha Rynok (Market Square). There are many tourists around and they speak Polish, English, Spanish, and other languages, but most often, other than Ukrainian, you can hear Russian. Today we will see if Lviv residents will help a Russian-speaking tourist with directions. For this experiment, I’ll pretend to be a tourist from St. Petersburg,” UATV correspondent Yuliia Bil said.
“Girls, would you please help me find Ruska Street?” Bil said.
“What specifically are you looking for?” the pedestrian said.
“I don’t know. I’m told there are some pretty places to visit. I’m from St. Petersburg,” Bil said.
“You need to go in that direction, then left and then straight,” the pedestrian said.
“It’s just that I came from St. Petersburg and I’m afraid to approach people with questions,” Bil said.
“Don’t be afraid! Nobody will hurt you here. Here, next to the corner you can see Ruska Street,” the pedestrian said.
“Your city is very beautiful,” Bil said.
“Thank you,” the pedestrian said.
“Nobody’s walking around with pitchforks around here,” the pedestrian said.
“Right there behind this building, in the end, that’s what you’re looking for,” the pedestrian said.
“Could you please repeat, I’m from St. Petersburg, I don’t understand Ukrainian that well,” Bil said.
“(Switches to Russian) Along this street and as one of the side streets you’ll find the Staroyevreyska Street,” the pedestrian said.
“As you can see, every resident I encountered tried to help me find the place I was looking for and not a single person refused to help me with directions. Now let’s try to order food at a local restaurant. Will they serve a Russian-speaking tourist? Let’s find out,” Bil says.
“Tell me about this Lviv cheesecake. Is okay that I’m addressing you in Russian?” Bil asked.
“It’s ok. Do you not understand Ukrainian?” the waitress said.
“Just a bit, but not so well,” Bil said.
“(Switches to Russian) It’s cottage cheese, raisins, eggs a bit of farina,” the waitress said.
“Is it tasty?” Bil asked.
“Very tasty!” the waitress said.
“Another myth — busted. You can easily try the Lviv coffee and the fabled cheesecake in any of the local places, even if you speak Russian. Therefore, we can safely state that no Russians are getting beaten or tortured here. But what do the locals think of this kind of myth? I guess I’ll have to just ask them… right after I finish this delicious cheesecake,” Bil said.
“There’s nothing of this kind going on. We’re just normal people living here in the Lviv region,” a random pedestrian said.
“They don’t like Russians here? Yes, it’s just a myth. It’s especially upsetting when people are actually afraid to come here. But we try to persuade them somehow because when they do come, they then tell their friends at home that this is not so,” another one random pedestrian said.
Petro has been conducting tours in Lviv for over 40 years. He’s meeting tourists from all over the world, he says, but the number of Russian-speaking travelers here has increased in the recent years. Some of them do arrive with stereotypes, but after one day in this hospitable city, all prejudices disappear.
“Here’s a funny story for you. I get a call and they ask me whether I can conduct a tour in Russian. I say, ‘sure, where are you from?’ They say they’re from Belarus. So I tell them I can give them a tour in the Belarusian language. But then it turned out that actually they came from Moscow and were afraid to admit it. Later they changed their outlook on Lviv. Here’s a monument to Ivan Fedorov. At first, he lived in Moscow, then he had to flee from persecution by Ivan the Terrible and settled in Lviv. He also lived in Volyn, but he died and was buried in Lviv. And there are many more statues here of people, who lived in Moscow and moved to Lviv,” tour guide Petro Radkovets said.
So, the myth that Lviv is populated by aggressive nationalists who routinely kill and torture Russian-speakers is clearly not true. The locals are kind and hospitable towards all respectful and tolerant tourists.