On Friday, 17 June, in Kiev several dozen people picketed the Embassy of Poland with the aim to prevent the recognition of the massacre of Poles committed by the UPA [the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – a nationalist paramilitary fought against the Poles and the Soviets with many cases of collaboration with the Nazis – trans.] in 1943 as a genocide. Following their traditional way the nationalists propose to place all the blame on the Soviet government. Although in 1943 the region was under German rule, it was left out of the equation. But let’s have a close look at it.
“Neither the Germans nor the Soviet partisans were the participants of that massacre. They remain only the observers”
Almost every summer the Polish political circles come up with some new, special way to honour the memory of Poles who were victims of the Volyn [Polish: Wołyń is a historic region in Central and Eastern Europe straddling Poland, Ukraine and Belarus – trans.] massacre in 1943. This year was not an exception.
A bill was registered in the Polish Parliament, which proposed to set a date of remembrance for victims of genocide organised by the OUN-UPA in the Eastern parts of Rzeczpospolita [a traditional and official name of the Polish State – trans.].
Of course, if something like that was proposed by the Russian parliamentarians, Ukrainian politicians in their usual manner would have got off with the curses and giggles. However, the Poles are now their older brothers in European integration, so threatening them is not permitted. On the other hand, in Ukraine, anything they can be proud of, except the UPA, has been thrown out of its history. Therefore, giving up that last “all ours” to the Poles is also not desirable.
The Deputy Prime Minister for European integration Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze was sent to do the talking. Of course, that official, whose entire career was built on the American grants, is infinitely far from the seventy-year-old Ukrainian-Polish showdown.
Who and what for the residents of Volyn were massacred in those old days, when the US grants were not distributed in Ukraine yet, did not matter to her. And because of it her response to the Poles turned out, frankly, to be primitive and unconvincing. It was like, let’s organise the joint Commission and investigate. If all of a sudden it was found out that the commander of the UPA Roman Shukhevych (quote) “did something bad”, then, of course, Ukraine would apologise for him.
Really! How could the man who in the 1930s was involved in political assassinations (Ukrainian historiography openly boasts about it) and in the 1940s served in the Schutzmannschaft [the collaborationist auxiliary police of native policemen serving in those areas of Eastern Europe occupied by Nazi Germany during WWII – trans.] do something bad which Ukrainian historiography prefers to ignore? Unthinkable!
However, the official admits that if there are such facts, they are likely because some people simply changed into the uniform of the UPA. Here we are: Ukrainian official of the highest rank has to speak such nonsense.
However, not a lot can be demanded from the American protégée. In the end, she may really do not know anything about what she has to say now. Though it is not certain if the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister reads Vzglyad [a Russian online newspaper, established in 2005 – trans.], it is still useful to at least briefly touch the issue of the Volyn massacre. She may read it by chance and then at least will not incur an outright mockery on the part of Polish politicians.
Firstly, what was the Volyn massacre?
In the spring and summer of 1943 peasants of Volyn under the leadership of the Galician [Galicia (Polish: Galicja) is a historical and geographic region in Eastern Europe that straddles the modern-day border between Poland and Ukraine – trans.] intelligentsia using bullets, axes and other improvised means assassinated tens of thousands of Poles living in the villages and towns of the region.
As with any tragedy of this kind, the reasons and preconditions of that one were woven into a ball. But there were two main ones.
In the spring of 1943 the political leadership of the OUN [the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists of which UPA was a part – trans.], the vast majority of which consisted of Galicians suddenly realised that the Germans might lose the war. So, the new division of Europe was coming about. The prospect of recreating destroyed by the Germans Poland was looming. To prevent Poland’s claim to Volyn because of the presence of the Polish population there, they decided simply to get rid of that population.
Could someone put on a mask of Shukhevych and the UPA uniform and start to kill the Poles?
An ultimatum was issued to the Poles to leave the region within 48 hours, which, of course, was not implemented. And then the massacre began. That was a simple Galician way to solve the territorial disputes.
The second reason was the plight of the Volynian peasants, who due to the nature of the region had never had sufficient lot of land. Moreover, in the previous few decades, the region lived in extreme poverty, which was intensified by the war.
Elimination of Polish neighbours gave some opportunities, firstly, to get hold of the land and, secondly, a chance to profit at the expense of the property of murdered Polish families.
In addition, in the interwar period the Polish population had a lot of privileges, whereas the Ukrainian population had suffered both economic and cultural oppression. That aggravated the situation.
In addition, at the beginning of 1943 in this region the Germans preferred engaging the Poles into the ranks of the police more often than the Ukrainians. That once again did not contribute to understanding between the nations.
As a result, thousands of the Volynian peasants with axes and staves led by small detachments of the UPA took an active part in the massacre.
The closest analogue of this wild event can perhaps be the massacre between Hutus and Tutsis in 1995 in Rwanda. In fact, cultural and social level of then Volyn was quite consistent with the Rwandan of the end of the 20th century.
By the way, there is a more modern analogy of this Galicia-Volyn link. In 2014 the Ukrainian “creative class” incited bleak peasant masses, mainly from Volyn, to the riots and killings of law enforcement officers on the Maidan. Later they were used as cannon fodder in the war in the East.
Today Volyn with its spontaneous amber Klondike, which is actively exploited child labour and around which armed clashes erupt from time to time, is rapidly returning to that same state as it was seventy years ago.
Perhaps because of it the publication of former Moscow and now Lvov journalist Ivan Yakovina under an eloquent title “From genocide to prosperity. How Rwanda became Singapore of Africa” acquired such popularity in Ukraine.
We should linger at not-for-bedtime aforementioned Roman Shukhevych. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, due to being almost complete sterile in the matters of history, probably believes that there was nobody in UPA except Roman Shukhevych.
However, at the time of the Volyn massacre Shukhevych, in fact, had no relation to the UPA. He was a political functionary of the OUN. Until the beginning of 1944 the head of the UPA was Dmytro Klyachkivsky, whom the Poles named as the main organiser of the massacre.
It is worth noting one interesting detail about this man. Naturally, he was also a representative of Galician intelligentsia, if it may be said so.
In 1940 Stepan Bandera decided that there was an urgent need to raise an insurrection in Galicia against the Soviet regime. The decision was absurd and the failed conspirators were quickly caught. One of the captured was Klyachkivsky.
Lvov court in early 1941 sentenced him to death. But Klyachkivsky appealed and the Supreme Court of the USSR replaced the capital punishment by 10 years in prison. It should be noted that during the process another 58 people were tried and to all of them the court in Lvov issued heavy sentences that the Soviet Supreme Court after appropriate appeals almost all noticeably softened. So Klyachkivsky ended up in prison from which in a few months he, and not only he, was released by the Germans.
And here, by the way, appeared to be a clear dissonance with the Ukrainian stories about the indiscriminate shooting of prisoners by the retreating NKVD [The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD, was a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union during the era of Joseph Stalin – trans.]. Somehow the mentioned character and many other defendants were not executed. Klyachkivsky died only in 1945 from a bullet of a Soviet sergeant. That is KIA. In general, there is something here for the Deputy Prime Minister to think about.
It is worth saying about the case, if someone could wear a mask of Shukhevych and the UPA uniform and start killing the Poles in order to present good peasants of Volyn in a bad light, thus making the future Ukrainian European integration difficult.
Traditionally, the Moskals [derogative nickname of Russians used by Ukrainians – trans.] were blamed. Yes, indeed, at that time there were the units of Kovpak [Sydir Artemovych Kovpak was a prominent Soviet partisan leader in Ukraine during WWII – trans.] in the region. They, in their reports, informed about the massacre in the Polish villages. And there is a temptation to say that the mask of Shukhevych (or rather, as we already know, Klyachkivsky) was worn by Kovpak himself, with a star on his cap changed to trident. However, the Deputy Prime Minister will be harshly disappointed.
The fact is that yet in 1998 the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers set up a Commission of historians, which was supposed to prepare a report on the activities of the OUN-UPA. The Commission worked for six years and consisted of such pro-nationalist-minded leaders of the Institute of history of Ukrainian Academy of Science such were now half-forgotten Kulchitsky, Shapoval and others.
The final documents compiled by the Commission contain many eulogies to Ukrainian rebels. However, in regards of Volyn massacre, even they had to reluctantly admit that neither the Germans nor the Soviet partisans were perpetrators of the massacre, but remained only observers.
Moreover, in order to cover up the atrocities of the Volyn peasants and not to provoke mutual strife, both Soviet and Polish historiography of the Soviet period were strongly concealing the incident.
The theme of Volyn massacre became actual at the times of Maidan when the fashion for ethnic strife returned. However, the trick with disguise is not going to work in the case of the Volyn massacre as Ukrainian own Commission have long denied this possibility.
And finally, it is worth saying that, if matters of bygone days remain dark for the Ukrainian-Georgian official, the modern history would be worth to be curious about.
Proposed by her the idea of an independent Ukrainian-Polish Commission has long been implemented. Yet in 2003, such a Commission functioned at the highest level.
From the Ukrainian side it was headed up by the Head of the presidential administration Medvedchuk and from the Polish by the Head of National Security Bureau Siwiec. The Commission concluded its work in establishing a certain trade-off.
After all, in this story the Poles did not remain innocent victims. Only the similar massacre that they organised was not in Volyn but in neighbouring Kholmshchyna where the Ukrainians were killed.
In view of this, in 2003, the formula of “forgive and ask for forgiveness” was invented. It was implemented at the joint memorial events and reflected in the decrees of the Ukrainian and Polish parliaments.
So the idea of the Deputy Prime Minister about the Commission is unlikely to be helpful.
The Poles, quite similar to Ukrainians, are not against using tragedies of the past for political gains. The Ukrainian side acts similarly, for example, in regards to the issue of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars around which they are not averse to arranging a show.
But the fact that the Poles do not forget whom Galicia and Volyn used to belong to is quite logical. The further collapse of Ukraine is not so fantastic a prospect because of the current government which Klympush-Tsintsadze represents.
A memory that these lands were inhabited by the Poles who were killed by the UPA at that time would be handy. So there is nothing personal – simply politics.