Lviv National University

Image - The Galician Diet building (later Lviv University).

Lviv National University [Львівський національний університет ім. Івана Франка; Lvivskyi natsionalnyi universytet im. Ivana Franka]. The oldest university in Ukraine, established in Lviv in 1784 by the emperor of Austria Joseph II with Latin as the language of instruction. The university’s precursor was Lviv’s Jesuit Academy (referred to in some internal documents as ‘university’) that operated in the city between 1661 and 1773. With the abolition of the Society of Jesus by Pope Clement XIV in 1773 Lviv’s Jesuit Academy was shut down. The modern secular Lviv University was established by an imperial decree in October 1784 and initially consisted of four faculties: philosophy, law, medicine, and theology. Candidates for the Uniate priesthood who had no knowledge of Latin could study in the literary Ruthenian language by taking two-year courses at the Studium Ruthenum (1787–1809). The university’s administration consisted of the senate (the so-called ‘consistory’), rector, and deans of the four faculties, but until 1848 the university’s autonomy was severely limited by the local officials of the Habsburg monarchy. In 1805 the university was transformed into a lyceum, partly in line with the reforms of higher education in the Austrian Empire, partly because of the pressure exerted by Cracow’s famed Jagellonian University, its regional rival. The lyceum’s curriculum resembled that of the university, and it consisted of three departments (philosophy, law, and theology) and the school of surgery. In 1815, in accordance with the decision of the Congress of Vienna, Cracow was detached from Galicia and became the capital of the ‘republic of Cracow,’ jointly controlled by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. In response to this ‘loss’ of Jagellonian University, the Habsburg authorities in Galicia reestablished Lviv University in 1817. It was renamed in honor of Emperor Francis I, and German became the language of instruction.

The full university course at Lviv University lasted three years in the faculty of philosophy and four years in one of the ‘higher’ faculties (law, medicine, or theology). The enrollment grew from 869 in 1817 to 1,643 in 1827. A majority of students were Roman Catholic Poles, who made up 57 percent of all students in 1847–8 (by comparison, Greek Catholic Ruthenians, ie, Ukrainians, comprised 37.4 percent of students that year). The university students took an active part in the Revolution of 1848–9 in the Habsburg monarchy, and demands were raised for the introduction of the Ukrainian and Polish languages in teaching and administration. The predominantly Polish students fought the Austrian troops in the city on 1 and 2 November 1848. As a result, the university was bombarded heavily by the government forces, as a result of which the university building was damaged and most of its library destroyed. The Ruthenians, who had remained loyal to the Austrian authorities, won some important concessions in university education: a Ruthenian chair in the faculty of theology (1848) and the first chair of Ruthenian Language and Literature (1849, first held by Yakiv Holovatsky) were established, followed by two Ruthenian chairs in the faculty of law in 1862. Holovatsky also served as dean of the faculty of philosophy in 1858–9 and university rector in 1863–4.

After Galicia acquired autonomy in 1867, Lviv University was gradually Polonized: Polish first became the language of university’s internal administration (1871) and then the primary language of instruction (1879). If in 1870 only 13 courses were taught in Polish (46 in German, 13 in Latin, and 7 in Ruthenian), in 1906 the vast majority of courses were taught in Polish (185), followed by Ruthenian/Ukrainian (19), Latin (14), and German (5). The appointment of Ukrainians to docent positions was obstructed. Nonetheless, a few more Ruthenian (Ukrainian) chairs were established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most notably the Second Chair of Universal History, with special reference to the History of Eastern Europe (in 1894) headed by Mykhailo Hrushevsky. In 1900 a separate Chair of Ukrainian Literature was added. The appointment of Ivan Franko, who twice applied for the position of privat-docent at the chair (in 1895 and 1907), was prevented by the Austrian government owing to his alleged political unreliability. Until 1894 the university had four faculties: philosophy, law, theology, and medicine. Each faculty employed four categories of instructors: professors (confirmed by the Austrian government), privat-docents, ‘suplents’ (substitute instructors), and lecturers. In 1913–4 there were 169 faculty members (83 professors, 66 privat-docents, and 16 ‘suplents’ and lecturers), the largest group of them working in the faculty of philosophy.

Student organizations that sprang up at the university in the 1860s and 1870s were divided along national, and sometimes, ideological lines. One of the largest organizations was the Academic Reading Room (Czytelnia akademicka, est. 1867) that united primarily Polish and some Jewish students and was generally hostile to Ukrainian aspirations. One of the earliest clubs organized by the Ukrainian students was the Academic Circle (Akademicheskii kruzhok, est. 1870), initially with Russophile membership. Another organization was the mutual-aid society Druzhnyi Lykhvar (A Friendly Usurer, est. 1870), created by national populists (Ukrainophiles). After 1876 two societies merged and assumed a pro-Ukrainian orientation. Following the arrests of the socialists in 1877–8 (including Ivan Franko), the Academic Circle reverted to the conservative Russophile orientation, while Druzhnyi Lykhvar continued to function as the main Ukrainophile student society. Founded in 1895, the Academic Hromada (Lviv) (Akademichna hromada) united a majority of Ukrainian students of different ideological persuasions. A smaller student society called Druh (Companion, est. 1899) served the interests of the Russophile students. The early 20th century saw the worsening of the Polish-Ukrainian tensions within the university. In spite of Ukrainians’ persistent demands, Lviv University was never divided into Polish and Ukrainian campuses, and the campaign for the establishment of a separate Ukrainian university was met with increasing violence on the part of the Polish students. Ukrainian university students, organized in a secret Committee of Ukrainian Youth (KUM), fought back. In 1901 they staged a protest secession of Ukrainian students from Lviv University. In 1910 a member of KUM, Adam Kotsko, was killed in a fight with Polish students. In 1912 the Austrian government finally agreed to establish a Ukrainian university in Lviv by 1916, but the realization of this plan was prevented by the outbreak of the First World War.

The student enrollment at Lviv University grew from 699 in 1851 to 1,255 in 1890–1 to 5,871 in 1913–4. Ukrainians constituted a minority of students (most of them studied at the faculty of theology), rarely exceeding 30 percent of all students; their percentage declined significantly after 1870 (from 41 percent in 1870–1 to 31.3 percent in 1900–1 to 25.9 percent in 1913–4). The share of Jews, meanwhile, gradually increased during the same period: from 4.6 percent to 20 percent to 28.1 percent, which reflected Jewish demographic trends and a wider spread of secular values associated with the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) movement. Nonetheless, many prominent Ukrainians were either students or graduates of Lviv University, including Oleksander Barvinsky, Ivan Franko, Mykhailo Pavlyk, Osyp Makovei, Stepan Rudnytsky, Volodymyr Hnatiuk, and Bohdan Ihor Antonych. Until the late 1890s females were only allowed to audit courses, but later they could become students in the faculty of philosophy (in 1897) and in the faculty of medicine (in 1900).

After the Ukrainian-Polish War in Galicia, 1918–19, and the Polish occupation of eastern Galicia the authorities abolished Ukrainian chairs and docent positions at Lviv University. By the order of 14 September 1919 only those who had served in the Polish army and were Polish citizens were eligible for admission to the university. Since the status of eastern Galicia was not resolved by the victorious Entente and the Conference of Ambassadors until the 1923, and Ukrainians refused to consider themselves Polish citizens, they were not permitted to enroll at the university. In 1919 the name of the university was changed to Jan Casimir University in honor of the Polish-Lithuanian king, Jan II Casimir Vasa, who founded a Polish Jesuit Academy in Lviv (1661–1763), which the Poles claimed was the predecessor of the university. In 1923 the university was moved to its present site, the building of the former Galician Diet (built in 1877–81). In 1924 the faculty of philosophy was divided into two separate faculties and until 1939 Lviv University had 5 faculties: law; medicine; theology; the humanities; and natural sciences and mathematics. Ukrainians, who continued their demands for a separate Ukrainian university in Lviv, boycotted the university until 1925. As an alternative to the Polish-dominated university, private ‘university courses’ were organized in 1920 by a group of leading Ukrainian intellectuals associated with Shevchenko Scientific Society, among them Vasyl Shchurat, Ilarion Svientsitsky, and Ivan Krypiakevych. The courses consisted of three faculties: philosophy, law, and medicine. Their enrollment was 101 in 1921. The same year the courses were reorganized as Lviv (Underground) Ukrainian University, and Shchurat was elected its first rector. Lviv (Underground) Ukrainian University remained illegal in Poland, with classes taking place on the premises of various Ukrainian civil organizations and even in private homes. Without official recognition and undermined by the continuous persecution of Ukrainian education in Poland, the university shut down its operations in late 1925.

In the mid-1920s Ukrainians stopped boycotting Lviv University and their share among students began to grow. Already in 1925 Greek Catholics (virtually all of them Ukrainians) made up 14 percent of students, while Poles and Jews comprised 50 percent and 35 percent respectively. There were several Ukrainian student organizations at the university, and the first and largest of them was the Student Hromada, founded in 1924. Until 1933 not a single Ukrainian professor worked at Lviv University. That year Ilarion Svientsitsky was appointed docent, and later, after the Soviet takeover of Western Ukraine, headed the Slavic philology department at Lviv University (1939–41, 1944–50). The chair of the ‘Ruthenian’ language was opened in 1928 and was headed by Polish linguist Jan Janów. A proposal by the Polish Ministry of Education to open a chair of the history of Ukrainian literature in 1936 was blocked by the university administration.

Lviv University was one of the largest universities in interwar Poland. The student enrollment grew from 2,647 in 1919–20 to 5,205 in 1937–8. Students belonging to national minorities were subjected to a discriminatory policy known as ‘numerus clausus,’ according to which Ukrainians could not exceed 15 percent of all university entrants, Jews, 10 percent, while Poles were guaranteed 50 percent. Jews also experienced additional discriminatory measures, such as segregation in lecture halls (the so-called ‘bench ghettoes’) and physical assaults. As a result, by the late 1930s Poles completely dominated the student body, comprising 72.5 percent of all students, followed by Ukrainians (14.3 percent) and Jews (10 percent). After 1925 the share of Ukrainians remained stable, but it was considerably lower than that prior to 1918. Lviv University was a leading institution of higher learning in interwar Poland and its faculty included a group of world-renowned philosophers, logicians, and mathematicians, such as Kazimierz Twardowski, Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz, Roman Ingarden, Hugo Steinhaus, and Stefan Banach. In 1933 the Polish government increased the powers of the minister of education at the expense of elected university organs (such as the academic senate and faculty councils); it also cut dozens of university chairs across Poland (including 13 at Lviv University, more than in any other university).

After the annexation of Western Ukraine by the USSR in 1939, Lviv University was Ukrainianized in language and Sovietized in spirit, but many academics of the Polish university remained on staff of the newly created Soviet university. The Galician Ukrainian literary scholar Kyrylo Studynsky was appointed its prorector or vice-chancellor. Among the newly appointed faculty members were a number of prominent Galician Ukranian scholars and artists, including philologists Mykhailo Vozniak and Vasyl Shchurat, writer Stepan Tudor, musicologist Filaret Kolessa, historian Ivan Krypiakevych, and mathematicians Myron Zarytsky, Volodymyr O. Levytsky, and Mykola Chaikovsky. In addition, a group of approximately 45 Soviet Ukrainian scholars from Kyiv and Kharkiv were sent to Lviv, among them historian Mykhailo Marchenko, the first Soviet rector of Lviv University who presided over a wide-ranging Ukrainization of the formerly Polish university. During this time the faculty of theology was abolished, and the faculty of medicine was reorganized into a separate medical institute, in keeping with the Soviet education system. In 1940 the university was named in honor of Ivan Franko who had been a student at Lviv University. The university had 5 faculties: history; law; philology; physics-mathematics; and natural sciences. The student enrollment was 2,230 in 1940–1 (Ukrainians comprised 35.6 percent, a second largest group of students after the Jews). The Soviets promulgated a false genealogy for the university, one claiming that it originated in 1661 but ignoring its affiliation with the Jesuits. During 1939–41 several waves of Stalinist terror swept over the university, targeting primarily Poles (although some Jews and Ukrainians were also repressed). Of the 68 faculty members arrested during those years the single largest group comprised 16 Polish staff members of the faculty of law. In total, 31 Polish faculty members were subsequently executed. In January 1940 the Soviet authorities organized a show trial of 59 alleged members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, many of whom were students at Lviv University. After the retreat of the Soviets at the end of June 1941, the Ukrainian linguist Vasyl Simovych was elected rector of the university, but the university was not allowed to operate under German occupation. Its main building was occupied by the Gestapo. In July 1941 the Nazi occupiers executed up to 70 former professors of the university and the city’s other institutions of higher learning (primarily Poles and Jews), in some cases together with their families.

The university was reopened in 1944 as Lviv State University (LDU), when the Soviet Army re-occupied Lviv. The Ukrainization of 1939 was replaced with a program of Russification, which was fully reversed only after Ukraine achieved independence in 1991. After the Second World War, a majority of new faculty members came from other regions of Ukraine, as well as from other Soviet republics. The student enrollment grew from 1,956 in 1946–7 to 2,690 in 1949–50. In 1945 the faculty of natural sciences was split into four separate faculties (biology, geography, geology, and chemistry), and the number of faculties at the university increased to 8. A separate faculty of foreign languages was added in 1950, followed by the division of the faculty of physics-mathematics into two separate faculties (mechanics-mathematics and physics) in 1953. The faculty of journalism was opened in 1954. A computation center, one of the earliest in Soviet Ukraine, was established in 1960. By the mid-1950s most of university’s existing buildings that had suffered damage during the war were rebuilt, and its facilities (the botanical garden, museums, and laboratories) were restored and expanded. LDU became the main educational institution of western Ukraine. In the 1950s and 1960s more and more native residents of Lviv and western Ukraine were allowed to joined the ranks of faculty members. The monument of Ivan Franko was unveiled in front of the university’s main building (formerly the Galician Diet building) in 1964. In 1963, the university rector Yevhen Lazarenko, a promoter of the Ukrainization of LDU, was fired from his post and this marked the beginning of a gradual retreat from the relatively liberal policies that were associated with the period of Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘thaw’ in Soviet Ukraine. This reversal of the trends culminated in a wave of political repressions at the university in the early 1970s. Two dozen faculty members and students were expelled from LDU in 1973 for alleged sympathies to Ukrainian ‘bourgeois nationalism,’ or accused of political ‘crimes.’ The humanities were increasingly subjected to ideological pressures, while applied sciences and technology were promoted at the expense of fundamental research. In 1975 the faculty of mechanics-mathematics was split into the faculty of mathematics and the faculty of applied mathematics and mechanics. Reflecting the general development of Soviet higher education in the 1970s and the 1980s, LDU experienced a strengthening of links between university research and the industrial sector (design departments and research laboratories of major plants), including military contracts, which resulted in a series of ‘economic agreements’ between faculty members and particular enterprises. A wide-ranging treaty of cooperation was concluded with Moscow State University in 1982, which allowed for academic exchanges between the two universities.

LDU was among the first institutions of higher learning in Soviet Ukraine to become involved in the Ukrainian national democratic movement during the perestroika period. In 1989 the university’s renowned physicist Ivan Vakarchuk (rector in 1990–2007) was elected deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR where he joined a democratic faction headed by the dissident academician Andrei Sakharov. In the spirit of reforms, two courses in Ukrainian studies—the Ukrainian language and history of Ukraine—became mandatory for all LDU students in 1991. Following Ukraine’s declaration of independence, several new faculties were added to LDU in and after 1992: philosophy and international relations (both in 1992), pre-university training (1997), electronics (2003), and culture and arts (2004). In 1994 LDU was accorded the highest fourth level of accreditation and a status of an autonomous institution of higher learning. In 1999 it received the national university status and assumed its current name: Lviv National University (LNU).

LNU was the first university in Ukraine to begin training students in interdisciplinary programs, such as European studies, philosophy of science, and economic theory. In the 2004–5 LNU, along with the Ukrainian Catholic University and the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, became the pilot institution to test the ‘experimental’ model of university autonomy. As a result, in 2009 LNU was granted by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine a status of a ‘self-governing (autonomous) research national institution of higher learning.’

Today LNU has 19 faculties, including biology, geography, geology, economics, electronics and computer technologies, journalism, foreign languages, history, culture and the arts, mechanics and mathematics, international relations, pedagogical education, applied mathematics and informatics, business and financial administration, physics, philology, philosophy, chemistry, and law. LNU has also 7 scientific research institutes, primarily in the humanities and social sciences, such as institute of archeology, institute of Ivan Franko studies, institute of literary studies, institute of European integration, institute of the ecology of mass information, institute of Slavic studies, and institute of historical studies. There are also 8 research centers and laboratories, including the educational laboratory of low temperature studies; center for the humanities; interfaculty laboratory of instrumental research methods; interfaculty scientific and educational laboratory of ray diffraction analysis; laboratory of folklore studies, and others. In addition to faculties and scientific research institutes, centers, and laboratories, LNU manages a college of pedagogy, an astronomical observatory (constructed in 1771 by the Jesuits), a botanical garden (founded in 1852), zoological museum (founded in 1784 as a cabinet of natural history), mineralogical museum (founded in 1852–3), paleontological museum (founded in 1852 as a separate collection of the mineralogical museum), archeological museum (founded in 1880 as an archeological cabinet), and a museum of ore formations (est. 1984). The student enrollment is over 21,000. LNU’s scientific library holds over 3 million volumes. Founded in 1608 as a book collection of the Jesuit College in Lviv, the library contains a number of unique handwritten and printed publications, including books from the personal library of the French Cardinal Mazarini, the French King Louis XV, the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus, and Hetman Ivan Mazepa. Its collection of periodicals in various languages is the largest of its kind in Ukraine and includes 700,000 volumes (among them 17,000 sets of newspapers).

The university has published its journal Visnyk since the 1960s; it appears in the following series: journalism, foreign languages, law, biology, geography, geology, history, physics, philology, chemistry, mechanics and mathematics, economy, pedagogy, international relations, applied mathematics and informatics, philosophy, art history, book studies, library science, information technologies, and sociology. LNU also publishes two dozen other periodicals, including Mineralohichnyi zbirnyk (70 vols, 1947–), Paleontolohichnyi zbirnyk (52 vols, 1961–), Inozemna filolohiia (130 vols, 1964–), Mova i suspil'stvo (10 vols, 2010–), Ukraїns'ke literaturoznavstvo (85 vols, 1966–), Biolohichni studiї (15 vols, 2007–), Matematychni studiї (55 vols, 1991–), Ukraïna moderna (29 vols, 1996–), Zhurnal fizychnykh doslidzhen' (25 vols, 1996–), Arkheolohichni doslidzhennia (19 vols, 2000–), Formuvannia rynkovoї ekonomiky v Ukraїni (44 vols, 1995–), Teleradiozhurnalistyka (19 vols, 2001–), Svit fizyky (1996–2015), and Khimiia metaliv i splaviv (13 vols, 2008–).

Today LNU is one of the most prestigious higher educational institutions in Ukraine. It has been consistently ranked among the nation’s top universities. For instance, in 2021 it was ranked third in the Consolidated Ranking of all Ukrainian universities conducted by the influential educational web portal In the same ranking LNU was also featured as the second best ‘classical’ university in Ukraine. It was ranked second highest (1001st) of all Ukrainian universities (behind only Kharkiv National University of Radio Electronics that was ranked 801st) in the prestigious Times Higher Education Ranking in 2021.

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Serhiy Bilenky, Bohdan Struminsky

[This article was updated in 2021.]

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