An anti-polish action, a crime, the massacres in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia – there are many names for the regular slaughters carried out by the Ukrainian nationalists on the Polish living in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia (pre-war territories of Lwów Voivodeship, Stanisławów Voivodeship and Tarnopol Voivodeship) between 1943 and 1945. It all began 73 years ago on the 9th of February 1943 in the Parośla village when the followers of Stepan Bandera murdered ca. 150 Polish people.
The very same Bandera who is still praised as a hero in western Ukraine and whose statues are still to be found standing in many towns. Over there he is thought of as a fighter for independence and a glorifier of the Ukrainian independence, meanwhile in Poland and Russia he had been declared a criminal a long time ago.
Thou shalt not hesitate to fulfill an act most dangerous in the name of the cause.
Due to the upcoming anniversary of the dramatic events of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia it is a good idea to remind ourselves of the most important facts about the mass massacres on the Polish.
The direct responsibility for the slaughters lies on the members of the Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) as a result of a split in the OUN in 1940. Alongside OUN-B emerged OUN-M which supported Andriy Melnyk. OUN was first established as early as 1929, its members being activists of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UMO) which was well-known to the law enforcement authorities of the Second Polish Republic.
It was the very same people who were responsible for assasinating many Polish diplomats; they have also attempted to murder the Polish president – Stanisław Wojciechowski, and First Marshall – Józef Piłsudzki. Besides, Bandera (leading the OUN since 1933) was initially sentenced to death by the Polish court, with the sentence later being change to a life imprisonment. He was spared by the outbreak of the war in 1939.
But the massacres in Volhynia are not just about Bandera who was locked up in the Saschenhausen concentration camp (he collaborated with the Nazis) while his subordinates carried out the murders, for the direct orders to kill were given by his underling – Roman Shukhevych “Taras Chuprynka”, leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (established in 1942 as an armed wing of the OUN-B). Together with the Ukrainian Self Defense formation (Kushchovi Viddily) they were the ones assaulting Polish villages and murdering their inhabitants mercilessly.
Statues in honour of Shukchevych are still to be found in Ukraine, just like ones devoted to Bandera and Taras’ underling butchers – commanders of two UPA’s military districts: Dmytro Klyachkivsky “Klym Savur” and Ivan Lytvynchuk “Dubovy”. All the common soldiers guilty of murder are to be counted by thousands.
Among the opressors of the Polish there were also Ukrainians collaborating with the Third Reich – soldiers of the 4th Galician SS Volunteer Regiment; a group held directly repsponsible for, among many others, murdering from 600 to even 1200 Polish people in Huta Pieniacka (on 28th of February 1944).
SIZE OF THE CRIME
The first mass massacre on the Polish inhabitants of Volhynia is thought to be UPA’s assault on the Parośla I village in Sarny country. The act took place on the 9th of February 1943 resulting in ca. 150 Polish people being killed. It was carried out by UPA’s squad (called sotnya) under the command of Hryhory Perehynyak “Dovbeshka-Korobka”.
ZYGMUNT ABRAMOWSKI, AN ALTAR BOY IN THE CHRYNÓW PARISH, 11 VII 1943
I was standing near the door after the ascension when I have noticed a suspicious movement. I saw a few Banderites set up their Degtyaryov machine guns and begin shooting at people in burst abd semi-automatic fire. (…) People started running away through the side doors next to the sacristy and the choir. Yet, the chapel was closely surrounded and the gunshots would not stop. (…) The shouting, moaning and ear-deafening shouting of children would keep on going.
The peak of the massacres in Volhynia happened on 11th of July 1943. On what was later called “ the Bloody Sunday” all the rural churches were filled to the brim with the Poles unaware they will not return back home. On this very day UPA has assaulted ca. 100 places. Their inhabitants were murdered in the churched, dragged by force out of their homes and tortured in a variety of different ways.
For the next two years these hair-raising events have been taking place in hundreds of villages. The goal – to kill every last one “Lachs” (Poles) no matter their age or sex. In the “cleansing” Volhynia from all traces of polishness hundreds of people often died, with the villaged burned to the ground. The bloodiest massacres took place in, among any others, Janowa Dolina, Ostrówki and Wola Ostrowiecka.
When the slaughters in Volhynia became less intense, UPA’s command issued an order to murder Poles in Eastern Galicia. The crimes there started taking place in autumn of 1943, while the very next spring they became dramatically more intense. Most murders on the Poles by the Ukrainians took place in Berezowica Mała, Podkamień, Bryńce Zagórne, Lipniki and the aforementioned Huta Pieniacka. Ukrainians carried out the slaughtering even during the Christmas Eve dinner. A good example of that would be the massacre in Ihrowica, Podolia.
UPA’s offensive on the Polish villages in May 1945 is thought of as the final moment of the massacres in Volhynia. Between 1943-45 UPA has slain in total ca. 100,000 Poles in the Volhynia and Eastern Galicia regions. Some researchers suggest that there were even more victims – ca. 130,000. All the places of horror (ca. 4,000) are listed on the website of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance exhibition “Volhynia 1943. Calling out from the graves never dug”.
CLEANSING OR GENOCIDE?
Today the memory of these events divides the two nations, as well as the naming of these tragic incidents. When speaking about the massacres in Volhynia, some classify them as an ethnic cleansing, while others highlight the planned nature of the Polish villages’ pacification and call it a genocide. There are also people who use the latin term “genocidium atrox” (wild, cruel genocide) because of the UPA’s brutality.
There have been as many as 362 ways of torture that the UPA has utilised on their victims. These have been most fanciful – impalement, cutting in half using a saw, burning alive or cutting off various limbs etc. No exceptions were made – neither to the children, the women or the elderly.
During the massacres in Volhynia the emerging as a result Polish self defense organisations and the independant Polish resistance have struck back at the Ukrainians. These retaliations were carried out in order to: protect the Polish folk, eliminate UPA’s squads and pre-emptively strike where the Ukrainians were suppoused to attack,
altough most of the assaults were carried out as a revenge for pacifying Polish villages. One of the most well-known Polish crimes is the massacre in Sahryń from 10th of March organised by the partisans (Polish Home Army and Bataliony Chłopskie – Farmers’ Battalions) resulting in 150 to 300 Ukrainian deaths. In total ca. 10,000 to 12,000 Ukrainian village inhabitants (mostly innocent civillians) were killed by the Poles.
Sahryń, 10th of March 1944. A revenge assault by the Tomaszów district of the Home Army on the Ukrainian common folk.
Some Ukrainian historians argue that due to the Polish retaliations the crimes committed in the area of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia between 1943 and 1945 were carried out as a part of regular Polish-Ukrainian warfare. This theory, definetely rejected by all of the Polish and some Ukrainian researchers, is supported by, eg. Volodymyr Viatrovych – author of the controversial “The Second Polish-Ukrainian War”.
Yet, trying to justify all the cruelties that the Ukrainian nationalists committed during a state of emergency is a lot over the top. Polish historians point out that the Polish and Ukrainian crimes are not equal; UPA’s massacres were well-planned and organised, meanwhile the revenge assaults (most often as horrific as the initial strikes) were of spontaneous nature.
THE UKRAINIAN RIGHTEOUS
Sometimes the UPA was aided by the local Ukrainian folk, altough the Ukrainians aiding their Polish neighbuors was not an uncommon sight. In doing so they risked their lives because there was just one punishment for hiding away “Lachs”.
LEOKADIA NOWAKOWICZ ON HARASYM LUKAYCHUCK’S HELP
They were wandering in the crops. Having found any corpses, they were burying them on the site. (…) in this very moment I heard an Ukrainian – it was Harasym. (…) “Stay here, maybe they will not notice you. I will come and get you in the evening. Your brother is already at my place”. (…) He said that there is no time to waste and we have to get to the hospital in Kowl right away. He tied a scarf around my face and put me in a horse feeding trough. He covered me in fodder and put on the cart. His brother was sat next to me and we were off.
“THE BOOK OF THE RIGHTEOUS OF THE EASTERN BORDERLANDS”
The Ukrainian Righteous have saved in total 2527 Poles – they warned them of the assaults in advance, hid them from the opressors, gave them medical aid and food, raised the orphaned children. There were cases when they refused to murder their neighbours, putting themselves in danger. Ca. 1,300 Ukrainians were aiding the Poles, from which 384 have paid the ultimate price for doing so. “The Book of the Righteous of the Eastern Borderlands” issued by the Institute of National Remembrance is entirely devoted to these who helped the Poles during the massacres in Volhynia.
Most likely the Polish and Ukrainian views on the massacres in Volhynia will always remain different. If only we could speak of the past events without it influencing our current relations – politics should be separate from history. Yet sometimes this is very difficult to do Especially when the history of both nations – the Polish and Ukrainian people – are full of dramatic events. No matter how cliché it may sound, the most important thing is to get to the bottom of the matter even if it is most painful.
Tłumaczył Michał Lewandowski