A knock on the large unmarked wooden door in front of Lviv’s City Hall. A man in military uniform with a German-made rifle answers. He asks for the password.
“Slava Ukrainian”. glory to Ukraine.
“Heroí em slava,” glory to heroes, he replies, and opens a passageway hidden behind a wall of books.
The man in uniform is not a guard. He is Master D at Kriivka, a popular theme restaurant that highlights Ukraine’s armed fight for independence against Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany during World War II.
The cavernous restaurant – which is decorated as an underground bunker filled with memorabilia – has been around for more than 15 years. And despite a backdrop of brutal and bloody history, the atmosphere remains festive and playful. Patrons still order multicolored vodka shots from the queue, and the brick walls are still decorated with 1940s shrapnel, radios, maps, artillery and lanterns.
But, as the war with Russia escalates, the location in the relatively safe western city of Lviv has taken on a new resonance. On a recent visit, instead of attracting foreign tourists to the restaurant, Ukrainians filled the tables. Locals, soldiers on leave and families who had fled bombed cities elsewhere in the country enjoyed food and wine. Kids frolicked around, trying to collect helmets and jackets or dueling with antique guns.
Alina Bulayevska, sitting at a table with her family, came from a nearby town to celebrate her 32nd birthday. “It’s an escape for us,” she said.
Active soldiers have left behind hundreds of contemporary military pieces – the insignia of their units. In the center of the display, placed in a frame, is a portrait of General Valery Zaluzny, the top commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The restaurant invited him to come, said one of the managers. The four-star general responded by sending his insignia with a giant blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, where he signed his name and made a heart in red ink.
The manager said, “He replied that after our victory he would come to celebrate.”
At a large table with a tray of thick sausages, charred vegetables and potato pancakes, Yulia Volkova sat with her husband, children and a few friends. The family has been renting an apartment in Lviv since fleeing the troubled city of Kharkiv in the country’s northeast last March, joining some 150,000 people who have been driven from their homes and have taken up residence here .
They have eaten at the restaurant many times. “We love this place,” Ms. Volkova said through a translator.
He was grateful to be in Lviv. Ms Volkova said Russian fighters had taken over her land and agricultural business and killed the family of her daughter’s classmate when they left church after praying.
“They killed everyone in their path, we saw it,” he said, pointing two fingers into his eyes.
His friend put down a mug of beer and took out his phone to show a video of the walls of his house, which were riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel.
Sivda Kerimova recently arrived in Lviv from Kiev for a happy reason. She had come to meet her husband, a 26-year-old army officer, who was on leave for 10 days.
In the shooting gallery of one of the dining rooms, the couple paid 75 hryvnia – about $2 – so that Ms. Kerimova could shoot 10 plastic bullets at a paper target with an image of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. In another room, customers could aim at an oversized punching bag mounted on his face.
Kryivka is one of several themed restaurants and gift shops operated by !FEST, a Ukrainian restaurant group. On the top floor is another, the most expensive Galician restaurant, decorated in the form of a Masonic clubhouse. Around the corner is the Lviv Coffee Mine, a sprawling underground coffee house and shop where patrons can wear a miner’s helmet and search for coffee beans and sip lattes.
Restaurants are not in the business of historical accuracy. In Krivka, widespread patriotism and general merriment eclipse the original’s often ugly record. Ukrainian Insurgent Army, It led the fight for an independent Ukraine in the 1940s, but included extremists who massacred Poles and Jews in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
But remembering the struggle for Ukraine’s independence is a way citizens today take pride in their heritage and show support for the war effort.
Food and fun—not history lessons—are on the menu.
Part of the evening’s festivities included a hunt for Russian spies, or “moskly”, a derogatory term used by Ukrainians for Russians. The game was led by a band of waiters dressed in military garb. Diners were laughingly interrogated, then taken to a makeshift prison and asked to sing a patriotic song before being returned to their tables.
At one point, the wait staff lined up like a military formation. The leader asked those gathered how many Russian tanks or helicopters had been shot down since the start of the war, as customers gathered to cheer.
The brief performance ended with a continuous round of encores of “Slava Ukrainian” by the staff and patrons. Heroim Slav” in unison.
the moment was not worth it mythological scene From the film “Casablanca”, when Victor Laszlo leads a crowd at Rick’s Cafe Americano in singing La Marseillaise in defiance of the Nazi authorities. But the feelings were genuine.
Meanwhile, the television on the wall quietly broadcast the evening news, including an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talking about Russian airstrikes that day.
Unlike other street-level shops and restaurants, which had to close during day three missile alerts, the underground Krivka could continue to serve pierogi and vodka.
Another evening, Vitaly Zhoutonizhko, wearing a sling on his right arm, went to the restaurant for a second time with his wife, Alina, and 4-year-old daughter, Kiza. He was in Lviv for two weeks on medical leave from the army, recovering from injuries sustained when a shell hit his trench.
When asked why – after living in a bunker near the front line – he would now want to rest in a mock bunker, Mr Chowtonijko laughed.
“It’s entertainment,” he said.
So was he about to try to hit Putin’s target in the shooting gallery?
He said, “I’m not interested in shooting the image.” “I have a real goal.”