Two Archives in Lviv, Ukraine


A review of the State Archive of Lviv Oblast (Державний Архів Львівської області) and the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Lviv (Центральний державний історичний архів України, Львів), Lviv, Ukraine.

In October 2011 I spent three weeks working in the State Archive of Lviv Oblast (DALO) and the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Lviv (TsDIAL). I was looking for sources on local practices in the fighting of epidemic diseases of the time when Lviv was called Lwów and belonged to the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939). I am a PhD student in Polish history and I am studying media and techniques of knowledge transfer in bacteriology around 1900. My interest in source material from Lviv and the Lviv region stems from the question of how bacteriological knowledge was put into practice in fighting epidemics in a peripheral area that was badly struck by a typhus epidemic following World War I. DALO holds documents from the health division of the Lviv voivodeship from 1921 to 1939. Documents on health matters produced between 1915 and 1921 are kept in TsDIAL.

Both archives are situated in historical buildings in the very center of the city. To begin with the State Archive of Lviv Oblast (DALO) is on 13 Pidvalna Street. You enter the building from Muzeina square right behind the large monument of Ivan Fedorov. First, you present yourself to the concierge who will tell you to visit the director of the archive. After passing the concierge you step into a beautiful courtyard. The archive’s administration and facilities are spread over the buildings surrounding the yard. You will find the director’s office in the building on your right. A letter of recommendation by your supervisor or university needs to be presented to the director who will then give permission to use the archive. I did not announce my coming to Lviv to the archive’s administration beforehand. The reading room is situated in the building opposite the director’s office on the left side of the yard. You enter it via an outside stairway at the very end of the courtyard. The reading room is on the first floor. You turn left into a hallway and find it behind the last door on the left.

From a user’s perspective proceedings in DALO may appear a little unregulated. Things are organized somewhat arbitrarily and depend heavily on the person in charge. This has advantages as well as disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that you cannot rely on any written information (internet or official documents). The archive’s homepage is therefore of little use but it provides basic information on archive holdings and a couple of useful links.

On their homepage DALO states its opening hours to be on Thursdays and Fridays only, from 9 am to 6 pm. This, however, turned out not to be strictly correct when I was there in October 2011. Over the three weeks I learned that the reading room is open every day but opening hours depended on when the lady in charge came to work. This would usually be between 11 am and noon, sometimes later. Regardless of when the reading room opens, there will be a lunch break between 1 and 2 pm where everybody needs to leave the room.

One of the advantages of the low level of regulation in DALO was that I was allowed to take as many pictures of documents as I wanted. Although the official regulations for Ukrainian state archives request a fee of 50 UAH (~6 USD) per document, in practice I did take a number of pictures without charge.

When you arrive in the reading room for the first time you are asked to fill out a registration form. Then you will be given the indexes you ask for. Indexes in my field of study are not digitalized. You have to work with paper finding aids that can only be consulted in DALO’s reading room. The ones I looked at were in Russian and type-written, sometimes you get a hand-written one. The indexes I went through were ordered chronologically and according to illnesses and diseases, which made my search long and difficult. To request a file you fill out a paper form. You can order and work with 10 files at a time. Requests are realized within 3 to 4 days. The reading room has a limited number of electric sockets only. When you come early, you will always get one but a good laptop battery is definitely an advantage – especially because electricity is sometimes cut. Although October was already chilly in Lviv, the heating in DALO was not turned on. If you come in autumn or winter I would recommend bringing a heavy sweater or a jacket you feel comfortable working in. The working conditions in DALO have sometimes been frustrating. But the lady working in the reading room tried her very best to make as much material accessible to me as possible. Once I was served tea and cookies while working and the reading room crowd was updated on Ukrainian politics on a daily basis.

In comparison to the rather individual way DALO is run the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Lviv (TsDIAL) is very professionally regulated. TsDIAL is situated on 3a Soborna square right next to the church. When you enter the building you walk up the stairs to the first floor where all archive facilities are situated. First, you will meet the concierge who will guide you to the director. The director took my letter of recommendation and we had a small chat about my research interest. Then she gave permission to use the archive. In order to enter the reading room you need to leave your coat and bag in lockers standing next to the concierge’s counter. Then you pass the turnstile next to the concierge. You will find the reading room behind the first door on the left.

After filling in the form for registration you can consult the indexes. Like in DALO, there are only paper finding aids. You will receive the ordered files (10 at a time) within two days, sometimes quicker. The ladies working in the reading room will tell you when exactly the requested documents will be accessible to you and this information is absolutely reliable. Taking pictures is allowed but in TsDIAL you need to ask permission to take pictures and you will have to fill a form naming the documents to be photographed. The costs are 50 UAH (~6 USD) per document regardless of its length. You pay your fees with the archive’s cashier. If you need a bill she will send you to pay into the archive’s account in a bank that is situated a little further down Soborna square. There you will get a receipt that you bring back to the cashier who is then issuing you a bill.

Opening hours are generous in TsDIAL. On Mondays and Wednesdays the reading room is working from 9 am to 6 pm. On Tuesday and Thursday it is open even until 8 pm. Fridays and Saturdays working hours are from 9 am to 4 pm. The archive is always closed on the last day of the month. Electric sockets are available in the reading room and the heating was turned on in mid-October.

A note on language: as a student of Polish history I speak Polish but not Ukrainian. That would have been a problem in DALO if I did not have a Ukrainian friend who took me through my first day and introduced me to the director and the reading room staff. In TsDIAL, however, almost everybody understood Polish and most of them spoke the language very well. One member of the reading room staff was also fluent in English. Generally, basic Russian is necessary to read the indexes.

Corruption is a hotly-debated topic for Ukraine and is brought up even in the context of archives, though on a small scale. I was told that Ukrainian archivists would only give out files if they received cookies and sweets in return! I traveled to Lviv with a well-selected array of German chocolate – which was, however, not at all necessary! The reading room lady in DALO even got very angry when one user tried to give a present. However, giving a small gift – entirely optional! – at the end of your stay to express your gratitude for the archivists’ help is of course welcome.

My research in Lviv was very productive and I returned home with a lot of relevant materials. The individual opening hours of DALO and the long time it takes to realize your requests can slow down your working process. Therefore, I recommend scheduling enough time and having good patience when you visit Lviv’s archives. Your schedule should definitely provide for one or two days off to visit the beautiful city and to have a coffee in “Swit Kawy” on 6 Katedralna square.

Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen
Institute for the History of Medicine
University of Giessen


Image: Photograph by Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen.

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