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Lviv -- birthplace of masochism

Restaurateur bringing repressed Ukrainian heroes out of the Soviet closet

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There is a brass statue of a handsome man in a long coat at the side of Serbska Street in the historic centre of Lviv not far from city hall.

On closer examination, brass hands can be seen reaching out from under his jacket, an opening in the chest reveals a sepia photo of a woman at his heart. His left pocket gaps open, its hems polished by countless hands reaching in to discover by touch two half-orbs and a brass ridge.

 While not as famous or as photographed as the monumental statue of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko that stands on Svoboda (Freedom) Avenue a few blocks away near the opera house, this small statue nevertheless attracts thousands of tourists who pose for pictures with their hands in the pocket, most unaware of its significance as a sign of an independent Ukrainian present and future, and not a symbol tolerated in a Soviet past.

The statue is a likeness of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, a 19th-century romantic author who was born in Lviv and whose claim to fame is not so much his writing as his desire to be cruelly treated by dominant women dressed in fur and with whips close to hand. Although a writer of great renown in his time, and although he was an ardent anti-anti-Semite and crusader for the emancipation of women, it was his fetishes that led Richard Frecherr von Krafft-Ebling to take Masoch's name to describe a pathology we today know as masochism, sexual gratification from pain, the mirror image of sadism, gratification by inflicting pain, also coined by Krafft-Ebling in reference to the depraved writings of the French Marquis de Sade.

Masoch's Ukrainian roots were suppressed during Soviet times, but he has been outed, so to speak, by Yurko Nazruk, 29, the lank-haired visionary with a pencil-thin beard drawn across his cheeks and lip who is at the forefront of the entrepreneurial movement sweeping western Ukraine.

Cafe Masoch, in fact, is but one of 10 restaurants opened or in development by Nazruk, all of them themed to provoke pride and interest in Ukrainian culture and history while creating 500 jobs and considerable wealth, which Nazruk dismisses. "Let's say I have a lot of credit," he deadpans. "I'm close to being happy."

As popular and naughty as Cafe Masoch certainly is -- historic soft porn, manacles and sex toys adorn the walls; the menu is covered in fur that disguises sharp nails imbedded in its cover; and the specialty is bull testicle -- it is not even a close second to Nazruk's first restaurant, Kryjivka (Bunker), which last year attracted 650,000 visitors, one of the top-ranked attractions in all of Europe.

Like Cafe Mascoh, Kryjivka is "a room of emotions" to remind Ukrainians of their struggle for independence, particularly from Communist Russia, and especially during and after the Second World War. It celebrates Gen. Roman Shukhevych, who led German-trained Ukrainian battalions against the Russians during the war. They continued an armed insurrection until Shukhevych was trapped and killed by Russian paratroops in 1950.

While Poles, Hungarians and others might properly claim that Shukhevych was a bloodthirsty assassin and revolutionary criminal, and while his legend was also suppressed in Soviet times, today he is a hero. In fact, he was named a "Hero of Ukraine" by former president and Orange Revolutionist Viktor Yushchenko in 2007.

"It was the only moment in the history of Ukraine when we were fighting for the idea of independence from within," Nazruk says. "It was the best time for this idea."

It is a mark of the restaurant's fame that there are no signs indicating where it is, only an open door into a nondescript building where a flight of stairs worn hollow over centuries leads to a peephole at which guests are challenged to give the password "Glory to Ukraine." Inside, a false wall of library books opens to reveal a labyrinth of rooms, all seeming enlarged bunkers dug underground in a forest.

Everywhere are artifacts of the insurrection, including small arms and machine-guns, period photos, information panels, even a shooting gallery where guests can take aim at Stalin with pellet guns.

At mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, the 250-seat "open museum" was near capacity, and so it would remain until early Wednesday, and so on year round.

Nazruk makes no bones that his interest is business, but his passions are patriotism and politics, evidently a successful combination.

He is unfazed by the results of the recent election, which saw pro-western Yushchenko humiliated and his former Orange Revolution partner Yulia Tymoshenko defeated by Viktor Yanukovich, whose attempts to rig the 2004 election inspired the Orange Revolution and whose Russified attitudes worry many both within and without Ukraine.

But not Nazruk, who sees Yanukovich as the "last gasp of the past."

Nazruk suspects his presidency will be in shambles within a year, in large part because he lacks sufficient support in the parliament to move Ukraine closer to the Kremlin, and because there is no real advantage in doing so. You can read whatever subterfuge into it that you want, Nazruk said, but it is not lost on Ukrainians that Yanukovich's first foreign visit was to Brussels, not Moscow.

"We outlived the period of the U.S.S.R. (68 years), we outlived the period of (former president Leonid) Kuchma (nine years). This period will not be so bad, or so long.

"They will never dictate what we should do.

"This is like the period of (George) Bush. We can make cartoons of him (Yanukovich) and it is just funny."

He said while Ukrainian politicians play separatist politics -- pitting the Russified east of the country against the westernized west -- Ukrainians themselves see that there is more that unites them than divides them, and that their best interests are their common interests in stability, family and economic growth.

And it is those fundamentals that already are cementing the day -- a whole new generation has grown up over the past 20 years that has never known tyranny and won't accept it, and a burgeoning class of entrepreneurs that understand everyone profits if "gangster business" is relegated to the Soviet past.

"The young people and the business know what is the past and they don't want it," Nazruk said as we walked through the city centre.

Then he climbed into his $45,000 Mitsubishi L200 Sporteo and was gone.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2010 A14

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