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17 December, 2013  ▪  Oleksandr Syrtsov

Awaiting New Hosts

The Ukrainian Week takes a tour around castles handed over into concession

A couple hundred years ago it was here that the steeds pranced around before going to battle, called upon by Prince Konstaty Wasyl Ostrogski, the owner of the castle in the village of Stare Selo, literally meaning old village. Then, the stronghold was in its prime. When I visited the largest castle in Lviv Oblast recently, I did not find a warhorse, but a work horse, which was chewing grass in that same court-yard. This is how disgracefully the last attempt at restoring the citadel from its ruins has ended, handing it over in concession to a private businessman for forty-nine years.

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Ukrainian laws do not allow privatization of unique buildings, such as castles and fortresses. However, inasmuch that the state and local governments could not afford expensive renovation, restoration and further operation of these architectural monuments, they were put into concession. This process did not become a massive phenomenon, though some campaigns to attract private investors were successful. In 2006, local artist Yosyf Bartosh becamse the new owner of the castle in Chynadiyovo, Zakarpattia Oblast. Acquiring the derelict building in concession, until then used as a warehouse for fuels and lubricants, the artist managed to find the funding, renovate the first floor and arrange open air festivals there later.

Lucky castles

According to the register of the Ministry of Culture, Ukraine has around 75 castles and fortresses. 34 are in Ternopil Oblast. Another 10 are in Lviv Oblast. Add to this numerous ruins and old citadels recorded on the balance sheets of local administrations – and the number will hit 200.

Eleven sites form the National Reserve of Ternopil Oblast Castles. This Reserve takes care of all matters related to the operations of fortifications. One of the most popular tourist itineraries  known as the Golden Horseshoe of Lviv Oblast will take you to three of them in Olesko, Zolochiv and Pidhirtsi. These castles have a special status as branches of the Lviv Art Gallery. For a long time, it was headed by Borys Voznytsky, a well-known art conservator, whose reputation secured him sponsors for renovation. Another lucky site is the Zhovkva castle. It is a centrepiece of the local historical architectural reserve, and falls under the auspices of the Lviv Art Gallery. At first, the monument received generous funding as Zhovkva prepared for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Magdeburg Rights. Recently, it got a substantial grant, so the restoration of the once royal castle will continue.  

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The rest of the castles in Lviv Oblast have been less lucky: their decline started at the beginning of the 19th century and continued through the Soviet rule when they were used as warehouses, prisons or mental hospitals. While Lviv Oblast is one of the major tourist destinations, these castles never saw investment to restore them and turn into attractive tourist sites.  

Stadiums, not castles

When Borys Voznytsky, now deceased, asked then Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnkiov whether the Euro 2012 preparation campaign envisaged any funding for restoration of castles, he replied that stadiums and airports were the priority at that point. Once the championship was over, the stadium stood idle most of the time. Meanwhile, the government launched intense preparations for the 2022 Olympics.

A few years ago, those in power decided to hand the restoration of derelict strongholds over to the private sector. This happened when Viktor Yanukovych was Prime Minister. On November 21, 2007, he signed a decree placing three castles in Stare Selo, Tartakiv and Swirzh into concession.

The Law on Concessions has one article that should attract potential investors: it foresees that payments need not be made at once, but after the building becomes operational and profitable. This did not work. Potential investors did not line up for concessions on the castles in Tartakiv or Stare Selo (only one application for each of these monuments was submitted). The concessionaire of the Stare Selo Castle became Mykhaylo Ryba, a restaurant owner from Lviv, who pledged to invest UAH 300mn to turn it into a family entertainment centre. The new owner of the Tartakiv fortress, became Ihor Novosad, a businessman and owner of a construction company from Rivne, pledging to invest UAH 100mn.

Initially, the businessmen were willing to interact with the locals, promising them how they would fix the roads to these monuments, and spin yarns to journalists about how functional these castles would be. After more than four years, the promised millions have yet to be seen. In the last months they have not even cleaned the territory. As a result, the Tartakiv concession agreement was terminated, and the one for the Stare Selo Castle will soon follow suit. Meanwhile, the authorities are looking for a new concessionaire. Now, negotiations are ongoing with the Poles and the Germans.

Stare Selo remains an attractive tourist destination. Each week at least two buses of Polish tourists visit. At the local school the teachers have set up museum of the castle, and the students are taking their first professional steps as tour guides taking tourists on excursions around the citadel for a small fee. The Tartakiv Castle is in a different situation: even though it is located next to Chervonohrad, a town that hosts the Potocky Castle, and the princely cities of Belz and Uhniv, the roads leading to it are very poor, so few tourists are willing to take the trip.

The third castle in Swirzh found itself in the biggest trouble. It fell into decline in the post-war years; the chances for its renaissance appeared in the late 1970s, after it was used as a location for a few episodes of D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, a popular Soviet film. Immediately after that the site was given over to the jurisdiction of the Union of Architects of the USSR. Four institutions were involved in the restoration project; a great deal of work was undertaken, not only on the castle, but on the associated territory including the lake. ALSO: Unpolished Authenticity

Because of such ambitious plans, they were never completed. The Union of Architects of Ukraine which inherited the facility did not have resources to complete the renovation. According to the regional head of the organization, Oles Yarema, the basic mistake was in that they never even opened the section that had been restored, even though the Swirzh castle is in a much better condition compared to the ones in Stare Selo and Tartakiv, and completion of renovation there is less expensive. Meanwhile, Lviv Oblast Administration finally decided to hand over the castle into concession.

Castle bookkeeping

The cost of renovation varies by castle. According to expert estimates, basic repairs, such as fixing or replacing the roof or repairing and reinforcing the walls, are the cheapest of all, costing at least UAH 5mn or about USD 610,000. Further restoration is at least five times more expensive.



Stare Selo Castle in Pustomyty County, Lviv Oblast. Architectural monument of the 16th-17th centuries once owned by Prince Ostrogski. It is the largest fortified castle in Lviv Oblast, covering 2 hectares. It was designed by architect Ambrosiy Prykhylniy. The castle is considerably damaged

Tatarkiv Castle in Sokal County, Lviv Oblast was built by Count Potocky in the 17th century.  Fragments of the fortifying walls is all that has survived until present day. At the end of the 19th century, the village owner Lanckoroński built a palace there, which stands to this day

Swirzh Castle in Peremshliany County, Lviv Oblast. The first accounts of this castle date back to 1530. The current building is from the 17th century when the citadel was taken over by Count Aleksander Cetner

Chynadiyovo Castle also known as Saint Nicholas Castle is in the village of Chynadiovo in Mukahciv County, Zakarpattia Oblast. This is an architectural monument from the 14th-18th century. The citadel was controlled by Princess Ilona Zrínyi, her son Francis II Rákóczi. When the Rákóczis were defeated in their war, it came into the hands of the Schönborns until the 20th century

Photo by Mykhailo Dashkovych

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