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Repatriation, 75 years ago

Askold Lozynskyj (Ukrainian Weekly)

Askold S. Lozynskyj is an attorney at law in New York City and former president of the Ukrainian World Congress.

 

 

In 1939, pursuant to the Molotov-Ribentrop Pact, the USSR and Nazi Germany divided a part of Eastern Europe, specifically greater Poland. As a result, Western Ukrainian lands formerly under Polish colonial rule were overrun by the Soviets. While Polish rule in western Ukraine during the previous 20 yearts had been onerous to say the least, the Soviets introduced a new level of terror with summary executions, arrests and deportations to Siberia. The Germans entered Ukrainian territory in 1941 showcasing their own brand of repression. However, when Germany began losing the war, the Soviets came back into western Ukraine in 1943. The population of western Ukraine at this point was aware what to expect from their earlier persecutors. Many began to flee towards Western Europe.

In 1944, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, having set up a lackey Polish Communist government in Warsaw and delimited borders between a to-be-newly-formed Polish People's Republic and the USSR, ceded a sliver of land knowns as "Zakerzonnia" so named because it ran along the Curzon line, traditionally Ukrainian land, to his new Polish Communist ally.

Between 1944 and 1947 this territory became a living hell for its Ukrainian indigenous population. Seventy-five years ago Stalin and his Warsaw allies instituted an ethnic cleansing program promulgating a process of 'voluntary' repatriation of Poles from western Ukraine now with the USSR to the new Polish People's Republic and Ukainians from Poland, including western Ukrainian lands now under Poland to the USSR. There was little that was voluntary about the process. Many Ukrainians in Zkerzonnia were complled to 'vountarily' consent to be repatriated to the USSR.

Repatriation was completed ostensibly by the late fall of 1946. What ensued roughtly six months later was a blant attempted genocide of the Ukrainians. Despite the forced repatriaiton, more than 150,000 Ukrainians remained in Zakerzonnia. In addition, the Ukrainian insurgency had not been quelled. The Polish Communist government was dismayed.

Thereupon, brazenly using explicit language "to resolve the Ukrainian question at last" in its decree, the Communist Polish government on April 28,1947, began to relocate all Ukrainians to Poland's northwest territories. The resettlement was specifcally carried out as ordered so that there would be no concentrated Ukrainian communities. This was known as the notorious "Operation Vistula," or Akcja Wisla. Some 140,000 Ukrainians were resettled. Many were incarcerated or killed in particular Ukrainian Creek-Catholic clergy and intellectuals.

In 1944 there were some 700,000 indigenous Ukrainians on ethnographic Ukrainian territory within the new Poland. By the end of 1947 there were practically none. The land of Zakerzonnia was settled by Poles. Ethnic cleaning, the geneocie of Ukrainians in Poland, seemingly had been accomplished.

Today there are some 2 million Ukrainians in Poland -- many of them temporary workers as Poland has one of Europe's fastest growing economies. Despite historical differences and the current Polish government's turn to the right, Poland is one of Ukraine's staunchest allies, including that the Security Council of the United Nations, where Poland currently serves a a nonpermanent member. Many have characterized this new Ukrainianl-Polish alliance as one of convenience -- Russia is a common enemy. Whatever the motivation, the lesson here is that historical foes can learn to get along.

The Ukrainian people indigenous to what is now Polish terrirtory because of the 1944 delimitation of borders have to go along with the inviolability of borders as espoused by the Helsinki Accords of 1975. Nevertheless, special accommodation should be afforded by current democratic Polish government for Mthe return of at least communal property, cultural centers, churches and the like to the Ukrainian community of Poland. Very little has been done in this regard, and what has been done is essentially symbolic.

More importantly, the Polish government needs to step forward in order to protect the Ukrainian community from any misinformed right-wing societal assault against Ukrainians in Poland. This is not simply a law enforement matter. It is a function of education. Recognition of the wrongs perpetrated against Ukrainians in Poland, albeit by a former Communits Poland but including substantial components of Polish society such as the Polish Roman Catholic Church, would go a long way towards healing old wounds. Polish society has to be informed that Ukrainians in their midst are friends and political allies, and not pariahs or historical foes.

Ukraine should behave in like fashion and offer the Polish community in Ukraine and the Polish Roman Catholic Church assistance and support. Ukrainians in Poland and Poles in Ukraine are not threats to either country's sovereignty. In fact each ethnic group is a major contributor to the country where they reside.

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