Patriotism in Business: A Growing Trend in Post-Soviet Ukraine
By: Daria Okhrimtchouk
On a recent trip to Ukraine, I was lucky to witness a successful business project that shows Ukraine’s progress towards capitalism, following a trail blazed by the United States more than two hundred years ago.
“Ahead, into the future!” once screamed a red communist slogan. Today, 20 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine is still learning how to be a capitalist, democratic state. Ukraine’s youth, perhaps more adaptive to the sudden change of political reality, take the wheel as patriots and entrepreneurs to lead Ukraine into a future very different from what it once imagined. Though Ukraine’s developing democracy is far from the fully functional democracy observed in the United States, the newly independent nation readily engages in entrepreneurship, mirroring the risk-taking spirit that to this day permeates the United States.
“Somewhere on Rynok Square” is the mysterious address of Kryjivka, one of the most exciting restaurants in Lviv (western Ukraine). The city itself is more than 750 years old. Established in 1256 by prince Danylo Halytskyj, it became the capital of a powerful Slavic state called the Galicia-Volyn Kingdom. The city has known the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and consecutively Poland. Changing governments brought new cultural expectations; as a result, today Lviv boasts a unique multi-cultural identity. The architectural styles that can be seen around the city are many and varied. Furthermore, every single building in the central part of the city is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. The city of the lion, as it is nationally known, is as ancient and wise as it is irresistibly charming. Simply walk down one of the narrow, centuries-old, cobblestoned streets and you will feel them work their magic on you.
So what makes Lviv restaurant Kryjivka so special? More often than not, the place is packed with younger, more exuberant crowds. The story behind the establishment is firmly rooted in Ukrainian history, more specifically in its struggle for independence. Therein also lies the key to its popularity among the free spirits and romantics in the area.
If you’re a speaker of Ukrainian, the name gives it away. Kryjivka in dialect means “a hideout.” There was a time when the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA) used to build subterraneous rooms either in the mountains or under ordinary townhouses to stay out of enemy sight. The restaurant Kryjivka was modeled after one of such hideouts. The place aptly captures the thrill of adventure, danger, and patriotism that characterized the undercover activities of the young guerrilla fighters. Even in the face of death, these young men had the integrity and willpower to stick to their vision of political autonomy. The shroud of secrecy was a dire necessity to the guerrilla soldiers. Unfortunately for me, even today Kryjivka is surprisingly hard to find.
I first heard of the place from an Australian friend, who had just come back from Lviv. Naturally, when I visited Ukraine in the summer, I went in search of it right away. My adventure started with the puzzling lack of signs indicating the restaurant’s location. Even my appeals to passersby were to no avail. Several of them claimed to know where it is, only to become very confused once they attempted to guide me there. Finally, after sniffing out every nook and cranny on the square, I stumbled upon a message taped to the wall – “No Kryjivka Here,” probably hung by the inhabitants of the surrounding houses who were tired of turning away tourists. At least it was something.
Thankfully, a little while later found me knocking on yet another door (a rather drab one, painted in the same off-white color as the walls). To my surprise, a stern man in military attire with a firearm slung across his shoulder cracked the door open. “Password,” he grunted. “Long live Ukraine!” I said the first thing that popped into my head (in Ukrainian “Слава Україні”). “Long live its heroes!” (or “Героям слава”) answered the guard, letting me inside a small vestibule and moving aside an ordinary-looking bookcase to reveal a steep spiral staircase leading down. Downstairs, tables were packed with young faces, chatting amicably over their simple meals.
A noteworthy aspect of the restaurant is its layout. Kryjivka spans three stories in a labyrinthine fashion, exposing some areas to natural sunlight while burying other segments underground. Upon asking for a tour, I found out that every nuance of the ambience had been meticulously predetermined : rugged furniture (as if quickly thrown together), antique typewriters and radios, firearms lining the walls, photographs of UIA leaders, patriotic banners, etc. All the paraphernalia creates a sense of camaraderie among the customers as they remember the past and reflect on the present.
Even more impressive is the popularity of the restaurant with the local younger demographic. The owner of the establishment had used the romanticized notion of guerrilla warfare to appeal to the adventurous, open-minded individuals who, on account of their younger age, are more hopeful than they are fearful of the unpredictability of life. Every night, visitors gather over the food and drink of the Ukrainian partisan, eating varenyky out of shallow metal plates and borshch out of clay tare, holding metal spoons fitted with special hooks by which they used to hang on a soldier’s belt. In some ways, the atmosphere reveals how it felt to defend your country against intruders not so long ago. Kryjivka is so much more than a replica of a soldier’s environment – it is a living ideology that is passed down to those who care about preserving their country’s historical legacy.
The staff is dressed in khaki-colored uniforms or t-shirts with patriotic slogans. Customary greetings like the one at the entrance are exchanged before any further conversation occurs between customer and waiter. Visitors can purchase souvenirs – t-shirts and bags with the Kryjivka logo or a humorous line or two, as well as “medovuha” or Ukrainian mead. One of the t-shirt inscriptions reads: “Hitler wanted the Third Reich to last a thousand years. Is the Third Reich here? No. Lenin wanted worldwide socialism. Is the world socialist? No. The UIA wanted an independent Ukraine. Is Ukraine independent? Yes!!!”
The people of Lviv are nationally known for their industrious character and their respect and love for Ukraine. Passion for its national and ethnic heritage combined with the spirit of innovation has earned Lviv the title of “one of the most European cities of Ukraine.” A truly successful business venture, Kryjivka is an excellent example of the marriage of passion and practicality.