Former Lviv Tour Guide Starts Again in Germany: NPR


NPR’s Ailsa Chang follows Ivanka Gonak who was a tour guide in Lviv, Ukraine before the Russian invasion, and who has now fled to Germany.


OK. In Lviv now, a city in western Ukraine that was peaceful for much of the war. But over the weekend, Russian missiles shook Lviv residents when they hit military targets there. Lviv is home to Ivanka Gonak. She worked as a tour guide in her beloved hometown for 15 years. Gonak says she knows the story behind virtually every stone in every wall in the city and has written guides to Lviv. We spoke to her just days before she and her three children boarded the first train to evacuate people from Lviv. They are now in southern Germany, where Ivanka Gonak joins us today. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

IVANKA GONAK: Thank you very much.

CHANG: Well, thanks for being with us again. Where exactly are you in southern Germany right now? I understand that you and your children are in a hotel.

GONAK: Yes, we are in a beautiful luxury hotel. We were welcomed here by the owner to this small resort surrounded by mountains and by the lake.

CHANG: How did you adjust to life in Germany for you and your children?

GONAK: Well, we had family here in Munich. It’s about an hour’s drive from this town. For the first few days, they provided us with shelter. But then they took in another family and we had to find a new place.

Chang: Yeah. May I ask, how does it feel to leave a city you were so connected to? I mean, you have made it your mission to show people every day what is beautiful in Lviv. How does it feel to be away from your hometown?

GONAK: This is an absolute tragedy, an absolute tragedy. It’s like my whole life, I’ve been invested in the city and I was deeply – I still am – I’m connected to my city no matter what. And I plan to go back. My children – they are still crying about Lviv. Even the youngest – she is 3 years old. And she says…


CHANG: I think I hear it.

GONAK: …I want to – yeah, actually.


CHANG: It’s okay if you need to take a moment.

GONAK: It’s good.

CHANG: Alright.

GONAK: She says, Mom, when we come back to my kindergarten with my favorite teacher, with my favorite children? And when these [expletive] do the enemies return to their country? She is 3 years old, and she already understands so many things. We all want a home.

CHANG: Well, at the moment, what are your plans for the near future for you and your children?

GONAK: There are two sides of the coin. My children are very happy here – the warmest welcome we have had here.

CHANG: You said there were two sides to the coin. What’s the other side? It seems that your children are, in general, happy at the moment. But what is the flip side for you?

GONAK: Well, I’m not happy. I’m absolutely not happy because I don’t feel like I can be a financial burden for Germany. And I don’t want to be that financial burden. So in about a month, I’m about to look for a job. And I can’t do this scientific work here like I did in Lviv. The guide must feel the place with heart and I just look around. But we hope that in two, three or four months the war will be over. We hope. And I’m about to accept the underqualified work in hotel or tourism, and part of my salary would go to the Ukrainian army, and I can be a soldier here.

CHANG: Well, Ivanka, when this war is finally over, do you see yourself ever going back to Lviv?

GONAK: I hope so. I hope so. I am determined. So I know life is unpredictable. But I hope I will have the chance to come back to Ukraine because Ukraine needs me and I need it. Yeah.

CHANG: This is Ivanka Gonak, a recent tour guide in Lviv, speaking from southern Germany, where she now lives. Thank you very much for being with us again, Ivanka.

GONAK: Thank you very much too.

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