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To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

To Get to the Other Side (part 2)

The clouds that hid the morning threatened rain, and the forecasts promised it. But just before I got to Ukraina that day, the 29th of September, with little more than mist to impede my passage, the weather broke and I was rewarded with the Ukrainian colors in the sky: blue and gold.  Then the real bearers of that flag informed me I couldn’t cross into their country on a bicycle, because of regulations.  So I had to wait for someone with a van to agree to ferry me across and let me out on the other side of all the gates and soldiers.  Apparently there was this important line that they were all protecting.  I looked really hard but I couldn’t see any line, except for the one we had to wait in, but everyone else insisted it was there, so I must be either blind or insane.

After an obnoxious customs interrogation, I was back on the bike and pedaling again—only this time dodging potholes and dung, looking out for cars because the concept of lanes wouldn’t keep me safe anymore, and sharing the road with cows and horse carts.  After an exhausting bikeride I made it all the way to Львів—L’viv—around sunset.  Many maps still call the city L’vov, Львов—the Russian name.  Not too terribly long ago it was a Polish city, and they called it L’wow.  But despite the game of musical chairs that has been played with its identity, the city is currently the heart of the Ukrainian national rebirth.  Embarrassingly for them, many of the street signs are still in Polish.

The eastern part of Ukraine is predominantly russified or even straight-out Russian, but here in the west many people were part of a new independence movement, so the name was most emphatically L’viv.  Whatever the case, in all three languages the name means: “Lev’s,” Lev being the son of the king who took credit for founding the place, though I’ll wager neither he nor his son ever got their hands dirty building it.

My first impression was that traffic was hell.  Just into the city I got hit by a bus, but it’s okay, because I hit it back.  Honestly, though, Critical Mass bike rides here would need handguns and RPGs.  Not such a bad idea anyway.  But I would not have to worry any more about killer cars, because my bike ride was over.  The roads here were a wreck, the drivers dangerously unpredictable, and a train ride across the country cost the same as lunch back in Germany.  I had biked 2100km in 24 days, and soon I would be in Kyiv, my home for the winter.