Chernivtsi is a 250,000-strong city in Bukovina which is still as a symbol of the former multiculturalism and Austro-Hungarian chic. It is inhabited by people of various cultures and nationalities, including a small Polish community.
Chernivtsi was a city which came under the successive rule of: Moldova, Turkey, Poland (between 1687 and 1699 John III Sobieski incorporated it for a short time to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), then Turkey again, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Romania, Soviet Union, Romania again, the Soviet Union and , finally, Ukraine. Its heyday took place under the Habsburg rule, as the city was part of the Habsburg Empire from 1775. As German writer Georg Heintzen put it, Chernivtsi was a city situated: “halfway between Kiev and Bucharest, between Krakow and Odessa — a city that was an unwritten capital of Europe, where the most beautiful coloratura sopranos sang, coachmen argued over Carl Krauss, sidewalks were swept with bouquets of roses, and there were more bookstores than bakeries.” Enjoying the reputation of “Little Vienna” Czernowitz was a city of many nations and religions. According to the Ilustrowany przewodnik po Galicyi[An Illustrated Guidebook to Galicia] (1914) by M. Orłowicz, PhD, the city was inhabited by more than 28,000 Jews, 15,000 Poles, 14,000 Ruthenians, 13,000 Romanians, 12,000 Germans and 411 Czechs. Among the city’s churches there were Roman-Catholic churches, churches of various rites: Orthodox, Greek Catholic or Armenian, synagogues and Evangelical churches. The best-known figure connected with the Chernivtsi of that period was certainly Paul Celan, born in Czernowitz, a German poet of Jewish origin and author of the famous Death Fugue. World War II put an end to the truly multicultural Chernivtsi. In June 1940, Bukovina was annexed by the Soviet Union; Soviet authorities deported many Germans, Poles and Romanians from the city. After Germany invaded the USSR Chernivtsi returned under the Romanian control. Deportations and murders of the Jews started in the city. Then, after the “liberation” and incorporation of Chernivtsi into the Ukrainian SSR in 1944, the city was left —more or less forcibly —by thousands of Germans, Romanians and Poles. The Sovietization of the city which continued for nearly half a century added to its neglect and cultural provincialism, and also substantial Russification. After Ukraine had regained independence in 1991, Chernivtsi started to recover its glory. The city today is inhabited mostly by the Ukrainians, with Russians and Romanian accounting for a large percentage of its residents, but ever new attempts are still made to find the multicultural roots of Chernivtsi / Czernowitz / Cernăuţi / Černovice. City monuments are being renovated, with attention being drawn by the eclectic complex of the Chernivtsi University (of the former Bukovina Metropolitan Bishops), 19th century Armenian Orthodox church, 18th century Feast of the Cross Roman-Catholic Church, Holy Spirit’s Orthodox Cathedral and the elegant Art Nouveau buildings of the city centre. Poles, Jews, Germans and Armenians establish their cultural associations and recover some of their churches. The Polish community has the Polish Community Centre located in the city centre, Polish folk groups are active, and there is an intense cultural exchange with Poland. Masses at the local Roman Catholic church are said in Polish, and the oldest inhabitants of the city speak beautiful Polish.