“ Address: Stepana Bandery St, 1 / Lviv Oblast / Ukraine „
Memorial Museum of Victims of Occupation Regimes aka the "Prison on Lontskoho" is located in a former Lviv prison building, which is located on Bandery Street which is about 20-30 minutes' walk from Lviv's Old Town. It is quite hard to find and if needing to ask for directions, I suggest asking for the prison Lontskoho as most people don't speak much English. In fact we were almost outside it before we realised where we were, as there were no signs on the way, and just a small plaque outside. It is worth persevering to find it.
This is the first museum of its type in Ukraine and their first museum jail. It has been open since 2009 and already their President has tried to have it closed down. The idea of the museum, and one their staff seem passionate about, is that this museum serves not just as memorial and reminder of the tragedy, but as a positive symbol of the Ukrainian liberation struggle.
The museum is open every day between 10:00 to 19:00. On Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00 and is free. They receive no state funding, and survive just on visitor and private donations. It is also one of the few museums open on a Monday, when most others are shut.
We had been warned that there was no text in English and that we would need to look at the pictures to understand the message. The pictures are very graphic, and whilst they tell a story, the full story can only be guessed. I don't think this is a museum for children at all.
There are a number of guides here, and we were fortunate that one could speak English and she showed us around and told us some of the stories of this place, which helped bring the photos to life, and made our understanding of the horrors of what went on here greater. I don't think I would have stayed at the museum or fully grasped the horrors of what went on here without her.
This region of Ukraine has never really been independent and in the last 100 years alone had been under the control of the Polish, the Nazis and latterly the Soviet Union. This prison was established in 1919 for political prisoners (nationalists), Jews and anyone the controlling authority considered an 'Enemy of the State' (a pretty broad and flexible remit).
If you have visited Auschwitz or Budapest's House of Terror museum (this museum reminds me greatly of the latter) then you may have an idea of what to expect. Sadly, it cannot be underestimated, the cruelty and inhumanity that man can show to another man.
We saw a number of prison cells, small in size, with bare, concrete walls, which held up to 15 prisoners, taking it in turns to sit to sleep (there would be no room to lay down). There were no toilet facilities in the cell, they were taken to the toilet twice a day and if they couldn't wait, well then they soiled themselves. There were no washing facilities or running water, people didn't have the chance to wash or clean themselves, living in their own filth, on an inadequate diet. There was no healthcare or clean, warm clothes (no heating either). Pregnant women gave birth and their babies were just taken away. Family members could bring in extra food and clothes but many didn't know where their loved ones were, if they were just snatched of the street. It was the late 1950s before water and washing facilities were put in by the Soviets. I also wonder how much of the food made it to the prisoners.
Whilst I couldn't read the text on the wall, I understand that it dealt with facts, more than speculation, even though the founders had trouble accessing the relevant information in official records as some files were suddenly not available, and in fact their computer drives were all taken by the authorities soon after opening.
There were also names of those that died and some photos and profiles of inmates. I can't comment on this content as our guide would have been there all day if she had translated everything for us.
You can go outside, to the prison yard if you wish. It is more a wasteland now, but there are some pictures on plaques on a wall showing (covered) corpses lined up. Originally the Nazis were thought heroes by some, who would free them from Polish occupation. However, within the first week, they had shot everyone in the prison and the full horror of their capabilities began to be understood.
Sadly I think it is necessary for museums like this to survive, for Ukrainians and overseas visitors to learn about the history and events that occurred under these regimes, in order to prevent such things re-occurring. It certainly helped me understand this region and its history so much more and is worth a visit if you have time.