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 75 YEARS AGO

At the beginning of the modern Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate from the Bryansk Metropolitan-ate issued an unambiguous directive to the Russian soldier: your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of the earth.

No more glaring a causus belli, and who is behind it can be imagined. The simple if abhorrent  reason for this war is yet another attempt at genocide of the Ukrainian people by the Russians. Behind this is not just one psychotic Russian from St. Peters burg, but the Russian Stalinist church and its people.

This is not the first time. The Holodomor of 1932-33 was an attempt at genocide, which resulted in 7-10 million of our victims. It was a criminal act perpetrated by Moscow.

One of the more persecuted segments of the Ukrainian nation are the Ukrainians who were born or whose ancestors came from a part of Ukraine (once, now Poland) called Lemkivshchyna. Their plight is particularly relevant today because April 28, 2022 will mark the 75th anniversary of their attempted genocide, the Vistula Action.

Persecution of the Lemkos in the XX century began earlier. Even at the time of the Austro-Hungarian rule during World War I, two thousand Lemkos (civilians) were sent to the Thalerhof concentration camp for allegedly being on the wrong side. This was just the beginning.

In 1939, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the USSR and Nazi Germany divided part of Eastern Europe, including Greater Poland which included ethnographically Ukrainian territory. As a result, the western Ukrainian lands, formerly under Polish colonial rule, were seized by the Russian Bolsheviks. Although Polish rule in Western Ukraine over the past twenty years in the interwar period had been harsh, to say the least, the Soviet Union introduced a new level of terror with swift sentences, assassinations, arrests and deportations to Siberia. The Germans entered the territory of Ukraine in 1941, demonstrating their own type of repression.

However, when the Germans began to retreat, the Soviet Union returned to Western Ukraine in 1944. At this stage, the people of Western Ukraine understood what to expect from the Soviets, their previous persecutors. Many began to flee to Western Europe.

In 1944, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who had set up a pro-communist  government in Warsaw and demarcated the borders between the puppet regime of the future Polish Peoples Republic and the USSR, ceded a relatively narrow plot of land known as the Zakerzon, traditionally Ukrainian land, to his new Polish communist ally.

In 1944-1947, this area became a hell for the Ukrainian indigenous population. Stalin and his Warsaw communist allies launched an ethnic cleansing program shrouded in a process of “voluntary” repatriation of Poles from western Ukraine, now part of the USSR,

to the then new Polish Communist state, and Ukrainians from Poland, including western Ukraine now under Poles, to the USSR. In fact, there was nothing “voluntary” about the process. Many Ukrainians in the “Zakerzon” were forced to “voluntarily” agree to repatriate to the USSR.

The repatriation ended sometime in the late fall of 1946. What happened about six months later was a harsh genocidal followup and the denouement of the real reason for repatriation.

Despite the forced repatriation, more than one hundred and fifty thousand Ukrainians remained in the “Zakerzon”.  Ukrainian insurgents, that is, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, had not been defeated. The Polish communist government was disappointed.  Direct and incriminating  language of “finally resolving the Ukrainian question” was brazenly used in its secret decree.

The result was that while in 1944, there had been about 700,000 native Ukrainians in the ethnographic territory of Ukraine in the new Poland, by the end of 1947, Ukrainians were virtually non-existent. The land of “Zakerzon” was repopulated by Poles. Ethnic cleansing, the genocide of Ukrainians in Poland, seemed to have taken place. Some Polish presidents of the modern Republic of Poland have apologised for the “Vistula” action, as did the Polish Senate, but  not the current right wing regime and the Polish “Sejm”. The repatriation, which began in 1944 and took away most of the Ukrainian population, has never been acknowledged by contemporary Polish governments.

Here is how it went:

In January 1947, the General Staff of the Polish Army began preparing a plan to resettle the rest of the Ukrainian population, this time within Polish borders. On March 27, 1947, at a meeting of the State Security Commission, Brigadier General Stefan Mossor presented a specific action plan for resettlement. The next day, Polish General Karol Sverczewski was killed in an ambush by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Only ten hours later a special meeting of the Polish Politburo decided to speed up the relocation of all Ukrainians and mixed Ukrainian families to northwestern Poland, making sure that settlements would not be concentrated and no nearer than 100 kilometres from the border. This eviction plan was approved by the governments of the USSR and Communist Czechoslovakia as collaborators.

On April 16, 1947, the Minister of Civil Security, Brigadier General Radkiewicz, and the Minister of National Defence, Marshal Zhimersky, unveiled a top-secret organisational plan for a special operation called “Wschod”, later renamed the “Vistula” action. The purpose of the operation was very clearly stated in the original document itself – “Once and for all to solve the Ukrainian problem in Poland.” The mechanism for achieving this goal was also clearly defined: “Evacuate all people of Ukrainian origin from the southern and eastern border regions … and resettle them in the north-western territories of Poland as widely as possible. … ”

On April 28, 1947, at 4 am, six divisions of the Polish Army surrounded the villages of south-eastern Poland inhabited by Ukrainians, primarily consisting of Lemkos. At the same time, Soviet internal security units and Czechoslovak border guards blocked Poland’s eastern and southern borders. Thus began the eviction of the remaining 150,000 Ukrainians from their lands and their resettlement in the provinces of northern and western Poland.

The operation lasted more than 4 months, almost until September 1947. By July 31, 1947, according to Polish data, 140,575 people were relocated, 3,800 people were imprisoned in the “Jaworzno” concentration camp (formerly Auschwitz), including many clergy, 655 civilians were killed. 1466 suspected members of the Ukrainian resistance movement were simply shot.

To combat the rest of the population, on August 1, 1947, the State Security Commission ordered the commanders of Krakow and Lublin Province to uproot and evict all Ukrainians who remained on their territory, regardless of their loyalty to state or party affiliation, and set up control groups to verify the operation. At the end of 1947, in place  of the  deported Ukrainians, about 14,000 people of Polish nationality were settled.

This operation was carried out with extreme cruelty. Polish police even recruited Polish farmers to kill Ukrainian women and children. Arrested Ukrainians were often immediately convicted and shot. On August 29, 1949, by decree, Poland confiscated all remaining Ukrainian property.

As mentioned, some spokesmen for the new Poland have apologised for the crimes, but there is no and will not be any actual compensation. The Lemko lands are not Ukrainian today, but the Lemko people today, after much persecution, continue to be an integral part of the Ukrainian nation. Who are the Lemkos today? They are very nationally conscious Ukrainians who recall and respect their heritage living in the German lands of Poland, in Western Ukraine, in the diaspora, and some having returned to their traditional lands.

Today we remember the attempt to carry out this Lemko genocide 75 years ago. We bow our heads to the victims as a younger generation of Lemkos and Ukrainians are witnessing and undergoing yet another attempt to perpetrate genocide against the Ukrainian nation. As we recall the history of our Lemkos, we must be reassured  of our nation’s undying spirit. Today’s 75th anniversary is a proof of the immortality of the Lemkos and the entire Ukrainian people. Our answer to the Muscovites today, we will win, because we are of Cossack ancestry and the spirit of Taras Shevchenko and Bohdan Igor Antonych (the poet laureate of the Lemkos), as well as Vasyl Symonenko who wrote, “no one will erase my people.” live on.

April 1, 2022                                                       Askold S. Lozynskyi