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Adrienne Warren

Shadows of Volyn ′Genocide′: Have We Forgotten?

According to a survey conducted by the Polish Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS), approximately half of Polish citizens are unaware who initiated the Volyn tragedy (another name of Volhynia) and who suffered from it. The massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia – today’s Ukraine – took place between 1943-47,and were part of an operation carried out in Nazi Germany-occupied Poland (according to preWW2 borders) by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a guerilla force of Ukrainian nationalists.  

Volyn Newspaper. author Volyn Newspaper 24 August 1899. source Wikimedia Commons

Volyn Newspaper. author Volyn Newspaper 24 August 1899. source Wikimedia Commons

The poll, entitled “Difficult Memory: Volhynia 1943,” was conducted on the website of Polonews referring to Polskie Radio, showed that more than 47% Polish respondents do not know who committed the crimes and who suffered during the Volyn tragedy, 7% accuse Germany and Russia of the tragedy and think that the Polish people suffered from it.

Volyn Region, Ukraine. author and source EEAP

Volyn Region, Ukraine. author and source EEAP

The attacks centered around the Volyn region, wedged between Poland and Belarus, which at the time was a Nazi-occupied region, previously divided between Poland and the  Soviet Union prior to the Second World War. The region has historically been a diversified one, as the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) explains:

“These differences are subject to historical conditions and attempts at unification which have been made over the past seventy years have proven that these differences will be impossible to reduce in the foreseeable future and will continue to bear an impact on Ukraine’s domestic policy.”

Ukrainian couple from south Volyn region, west Ukraine. 1934. author Unknown. Source Polish Digital Archives

Ukrainian couple from south Volyn region, west Ukraine. 1934. author Unknown. Source Polish Digital Archives

The 70th anniversary commemorations will take place in the coming months, as the worst of the massacres took place in July and August 1943 when a senior UPA commander, Dmytro Klyachkivsky, ordered the liquidation of the entire male Polish population between 16 and 60 years of age. However, the ethnic cleansing was by no means limited to the male population, as most of the victims were women and children, and the order resulted in 40,000-60,000 Polish civilian deaths in the Volhynia region alone.

The worst of the massacres took place on 11th of July 1943, as journalist Martin Banks depicts the events:

“Thousands of ethnic Ukrainians fell victim – including spouses in mixed marriages, those professing Catholicism or simply those who did not share the views of Ukrainian nationalists.”

The upcoming anniversary has brought with it fresh tensions, as the Ukrainian Socialist political party– “Fight” Movement–has accused the current Ukrainian government of “trying to forget” the tragic affairs in Volyn and “not doing anything to stop or prevent” the present growth of ultra-nationalistic movements in the country.

As “Fight Movement” leader, Sergey Kirichyuk, says, the upcoming anniversary of events in WW2 will overshadow Ukraine’s efforts to close out its trade negotiations with the EU in relation to the Association Agreement:

 “In Ukraine there is a tendency to gloss over this terrible date, as if the anniversary of Volyn massacre was an ‘inconvenient’ memory. Current Ukrainian politicians would wish to see Ukraine forget this crime as soon as possible. “


Graveyard in Berezowica Mala, Ukraine (names of local Poles who lost their lives during the Volyn massacre), author: Alina & Ireneusz Skrzypczakowie, source: Wikimedia Commons

Kirichyuk continues:

“Moreover, they are trying to portray people who are responsible for the brutal mass murders of civilians as Ukrainian national heroes. Those responsible for these crimes are UIA leaders who are now canonized by Ukrainian nationalists. The Freedom party does not only justify the Volyn executioners – but also sets their actions as examples to the new generations of Ukrainians. Unfortunately, the country’s political leadership also turns a blind eye to the attempts to commemorate the Volyn tragedy. The government of Yanukovych and Azarov is not doing anything to showcase the truth to Ukrainian society about the events that took place 70 years ago.

Kirichyuk’s party is demanding that the Ukrainian parliament and government recognize the Volyn massacre as a “genocide” of the Polish population in Ukraine:

“We demand that the memory of the Volyn massacre victims be immortalized in Kiev and other Ukraine cities and that 11 July be declared a ‘Day of Remembrance of the Victims of nationalism.’”

Ukrainian lirnyk from Volynia. 1935. author Unknown. source Polish Digital Archives

Ukrainian lirnyk from Volynia. 1935. author Unknown. source Polish Digital Archives

Meanwhile, Polish and Ukrainian church leaders have signed an appeal for reconciliation in Warsaw. The declaration, initialled by chief signatories Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the Polish Roman Catholic Episcopate, and Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, calls on Poles and Ukrainians to “open minds and hearts to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.”

A joint statement from the two parties reads:

“We are aware that only the truth can set us free, the truth, which does not beautify and does not omit, which does not pass over in silence, but leads to forgiveness.”

However, the poll from Polonews, in addition to demonstrating a lack of knowledge about the Volyn tragedy, also demonstrates that current Polish-Ukrainian relations are less than desirable in the public eye.

Almost a half of respondents (46%) said they are neither bad nor good, and 18% could not answer the question. Some 21% said that Ukraine and Poland have good relations and 15% described them as bad.

More than a half of respondents said that history of Ukraine-Poland relations was a source of conflicts rather than a reason for development of partnership. Some 54% think that the past splits the two peoples and only a quarter of respondents said that it unites them.

Sources: European Business Review, , OSW, interfax

Read also:

Volyn 1943: In remembrance

Ukraine, Poland pray to commemorate victims of Volyn tragedy – the PL and UA versions – opens a debate on Ukrainian-Polish relations and memories – join us!

Слова молитви за Волинь

Nie ma zgody na relatywizację mordu wołyńskiego

Jak Polacy traktują kraińców I Ukraińskie kino buduje nienawiść do Polaków

Co zyskamy nazywając zbrodnię wołyńską ludobójstwem? – wywiad z Andrzejem Szeptyckim

“Волинська різанина” затьмарює відносини України і Польщі

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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