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From Ukraine to a tourist conference in Gothenburg

Nine months ago, life changed dramatically for Lidia Fedchuk and Anna Vilchynska at the tourist office in Lviv. The war stopped tourism and instead they have helped the international media and other Ukrainians during the most horrendous of times. This week they are in Gothenburg to receive a European tourism award.

Två kvinnor utanför turistbyrån
After a 24-hour journey, Anna och Lidia are in Gothenburg to receive the City DNA Hostmanship award.

Lviv is only a few miles from the Polish border. In a normal year, many foreign tourists come to visit the historical Ukrainian city, which since 1998 is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. But when Russia invaded the country on February 24, everything changed.

– For me, it was obvious what was going to happen. Two weeks before, the whole city began to prepare. Emergency bags for everyone, testing alarm systems and checking shelters. The tourist office was turned into a press centre for foreign media that was opened on the day after the invasion, says Lidia.

But it wasn’t just foreign media that arrived at the tourist office. Its location near the railway station made it a gathering place for refugees from other parts of Ukraine. Cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol that were heavily attacked. Lidia and many others opened their homes to them.

Outside the tourist office, the staff put up a map where those who had fled could place a pin on where they came from. After a while, the map became so heavy with pins that it almost collapsed and had to be moved into the premises.

Karta över Ukraina full med nålar och text
The map at the tourist centre where refugees put pins. Photo: Anna Vilchynska

Much of the preparation is about how to survive. Staff at the tourist office have been trained in how to protect themselves against a chemical weapons attack and regularly help hotels and other businesses in the tourism sector with information and knowledge.

Lviv has been spared compared to other Ukrainian cities. But from time to time the air raid alarm sounds over the city, and you must seek shelter. Sometimes several times a day, sometimes less often.

– This always means that what you have planned is put on hold. You get used to it, but I don’t want to get used to it. We have started to get some tourists back from other parts of Ukraine who want to visit galleries or do other normal things, says Lidia.

Tourism professionals meet in Gothenburg

This week, the European tourism organization City Destination Alliance is holding the conference TIC Expert Meeting in Gothenburg. Around 80 tourism professionals from 23 countries gather at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre on 24 – 25 November. Lidia and Anna are specially invited to receive the Hostmanship award 2022.

“The award goes to tourism professionals who have done something exceptional for their city. In this case, it goes far beyond what is normal. The tourism professionals in Ukraine have shown huge bravery, but also other human values ​​such as generosity and resilience and have become an example for all of us of the highest standards of public service.”

Pablo Ortega Novillo
City DNA Tourist Information Centres Knowledge Group Chair

The many refugees in Lviv have also brought positive aspects. The city has become a hub for cultural life and business as many have moved their businesses there.

– Restaurants have been opened with food from other regions, so we have got some completely new kitchens. There have also been strong reactions against the war from the culture and the project UNBROKEN has been started to give help to those who have been badly injured, says Anna.

There are now fewer foreign journalists. Instead, doctors from all over the world have come to Lviv to help treat patients in the hospitals. Museums and galleries that have shelters are allowed to stay open, but many art objects are protected by being kept hidden.

Right now, they are trying to plan how the city will be decorated for Christmas. Will the big Christmas tree be put up as usual and if so, how will it be lit when electricity is poor?

– We hope the war will end soon, but we don’t know when. We can only continue to work and hope and step by step go back to what is normal, says Anna.