Article by: Bohdan Ben
Edited by: Sonia Maryn
Is reconciliation possible? Two Ukrainians deported from Poland in 1944 recall mass killings, explain current Polish-Ukrainian relations.
The occupation of Eastern Europe in 1944–1945 by the Red Army and the establishment of communist regimes in the region involved means of large-scale repressions, deportations, and the subjugation of the population.
To establish the Soviet-Polish border and resolve territorial disputes, on 9 September 1944 representatives of the Ukrainian SSR and the Polish People’s Republic signed an “Agreement on the Evacuation of the Ukrainian Population from Poland and Polish Citizens From the Ukrainian SSR.”
De jure, the agreement foresaw peaceful, voluntary resettlement with the preservation of property, so that Poles could resettle from Ukrainian to Polish territory and vice versa. The agreement could have meaning since the area of what is now Ukrainian and Polish parts of Galicia (western Ukraine and south-eastern Poland) was populated by a mixed Polish-Ukrainian population. This was a source of constant political, cultural, as well as military conflicts between the two nations.
The agreement, using the previously defined Curzon Line, divided Galicia into Polish and Ukrainian sections.
In reality, however, the resettlement was conducted compulsorily. The most tragic consequences were that Polish military units and gangs used the agreement to intensify repressions against Ukrainians and evict them even from exclusively Ukrainian villages, thus making all eastern Polish regions “clean.” In other words, an ethnic cleansing of about 500,000 Ukrainians.
During the 1946-1947 Operation Vistula, the remaining 150,000 Ukrainians in eastern Poland were forcefully deported by the Polish government to the north-west of the country so that they were dispersed and no trace of the Ukrainian populace was left in their native villages.
To this day, these events fuel the main Ukrainian-Polish controversy, hampering current relations between the two countries. While Ukrainians denounce Operation Vistula and the massacre of entire villages in 1944-1946, Poles revile the Volhynia Tragedy, claiming that in 1943-1944 units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) killed 40,000 Poles in Volyn and eastern Galicia, former territories of the Second Polish Republic now in western Ukraine.
Resolution and reconciliation will require both sides to be open to the complexity of factors that led to these tragedies and at the very least commemorate victims of both nations.
This process is now almost completely frozen, interviewees say, recalling the 1944 events and explaining current obstacles to commemorate and honor victims.
Interviews were recorded with Hanna Voloshynska (b. Myshkovska) and Oleksandr Voloshynskyi. Hanna was born in the Ukrainian village Poliany in the now-Polish Carpathians, while Oleksandr was born in the Ukrainian village Poturzhyn near the now-Polish town of Hrubieszov, 100 km north.
Hanna’s family was forcibly deported by Soviet troops, while Oleksandr’s family had to flee from mass killings by Polish military units operating around the towns of Holm and Hrubieszov. After living as itinerants in poverty and hardship, both families finally settled in the village of Sokilnyky near Lviv. Hanna and Oleksandr attended the same school and later married. Their strong cultural bonds helped to preserve their shared history of Ukrainians being deported and their villages destroyed.
These interviews speak of the repression and deportation of Ukrainians by the Soviet regime and Polish government in 1944-1946, as well as current issues arising from Ukrainian-Polish historical animus.