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Lviv’s Prewar Ghost Signs

I love to stumble across remnants of the past, especially ghost signs, which in Lviv occupy a special place in the urban landscape for they are a reminder of a different era—not only of when the landscape was void of neon lights and bulky plastic signs, but of the city’s multicultural and multilinguistic past.

These colorful hand-painted signs were written mostly in Polish, but also in Yiddish and German, rarely in Ukrainian, and served as advertisements, especially for the stores on which they were painted. I like to capture them in different stages of their life cycles: those few moments they are exposed to the world after decades under plaster before they are to be suffocated once again; the moment they are being given a new life, restored, refreshed with a new layer of paint; during the course of days or months as slowly the plaster falls or is chipped away and they are revealed once again to the world and passers-by, though their messages no longer relevant or understood by locals; when they are lost underneath their modern counterparts, bright billboards; after they’ve been graffitied over by individuals who don’t realize their value; their finals days as they fade and vanish into oblivion.

We may not always see them: they may be hidden under layers of paint and plaster, or we may be too busy, distracted to notice them. But they are always with us, a part of our city, our history—sometimes we just have to stop and look around us.

Areta Kovalsky is a Ukrainian-American who lives and works in Lviv. She maintains a blog in which she documents traces of the past found in the urban landscape as well as in other spheres of life.

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