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Encyclopedia > Massacre of Poles in Volhynia
Historian Volhynia alone Whole Ukraine
Norman Davies 60,000 500,000
Jan P. Gross 60-80,000
Ewa and Władysław Siemaszko 50-60,000 100,000
Wiktor Poliszczuk 50-60,000 120,000
Ryszard Torzecki 40,000 100,000
Michał Fijałka 40,000
Józef Turowski 60,000 300,000
Grzegorz Motyka 35,000-60,000
Antoni Szczęśniak, Wiesław Szota 100,000
Bogumiła Berdychowska 34,647-60,000


During World War II, approximately 100.000 Poles were massacred in Volhynia by units of the Ukrainian Uprising Army (Ukrainska Povstanska Armiya).


Volhynia was a largely Ukrainian region under Polish rule during the interwar period. After World War I when Polish regained independance, the Polish government supported the idea of independent Ukraine (Ukrainian People's Republic) during the Polish-Bolshevik War, and after the Peace of Riga that ruled out the Ukrainian independence, Poland promised to grant local autonomy to these Ukrainian territories. However with the demise of Józef Piłsudski's Międzymorze federation concept and rise of Roman Dmowski's nationalism, Polish government forces suppressed the Ukrainian language locally and tensions over the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church arose. Fueled by Bolshevik propaganda, the conflicts between Ukrainian and Poles grew more and more violent.


During the Polish Defence War of 1939 at the start of World War II, Volhynia became occupied by the Soviet, and some Ukrainians started their moves against the defeated Poles. Then, Operation Barbarossa put it under Nazi German rule. The local Ukrainians began to form a local resistance army to fight the occupiers. However, in February 1943 local elements of this Ukrainian army began to attack the civilians of the local Polish minority, killing many in an attempt to drive the Poles out of Volhynia. Actions were made by many units coordinating their actions. When Polish delegation from the Armia Krajowa (lead by a delegate of the Polish government-in-exile) tried to negotiate with UPA leaders, it was murdered on July 8, 1943. On July 11 another round of massacres started, with reports about UPA units marching from village to village killing civilians of Polish nationality. The massacres lasted until July 16. UPA continued the ethnic cleansing, especially in the rural areas, until all Poles were either deported, killed or expelled, though after 1944 the scale was much more limited.

Enlarge
So-called wreath: children tied to a tree with barbed wire; Łobozowa near Tarnopol, late 1943

German army and police forces largely ignored the matter; there are reports about Germans supplying weapons to both Ukrainians and Poles, but since such reports are usually based on hearsay, they are not really reliable. Also some special German units from collaborationist Ukrainian or Polish police were going around, and some of their crimes were attributed either to Polish Armia Krajowa or Ukrainian UPA.


Some have raised the question whether these actions were ordered by the authorities of the UPA or were independent decision of local commanders; to date there is no evidence of such an order, and any documents found by Polish historians are considered to be falsificates by Ukrainian ones.


In the end, the Soviet and Nazi invasions, the UPA campaign and post-war Soviet expulsions all contributed to the virtual elimination of any Polish presence in the region.


Casualties

The exact number of civilian casualties remains unknown. Various historians estimate that number at between 35,000 and 60,000 of casualties in Volhynia alone, though the estimates of all victims of UPA terror in Ukraine are as high as 100,000 (or even 500,000).


Retaliation by the Polish forces of the Home Army resulted in the deaths of additional 15,000 to 30,000 Ukrainian civilians of the region, though the exact number of deaths is even less documented. The numbers cited probably include also the victims of German Schutzmannschaft and Soviet partisans, who also took part in the ethnic cleansing. There are efforts to bring about reconciliation between the Polish people and Ukrainians over these tragic events.


Bibliography

  • Mikołaj Teres: Ethnic Cleansing of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia; Toronto, 1993.
  • Ryszard Torzecki: Polacy i Ukraińcy; Sprawa ukraińska w czasie II wojny światowej na terenie II Rzeczypospolitej; Warsaw, 1993.
  • Wiktor Poliszczuk: Gorzka prawda; Zbrodniczość OUN-UPA (eng.: Bitter Truth. Legal and Political Assessment of the OUN and UPA), Toronto-Warsaw-Kiev, 1995.
  • Władysław & Ewa Siemaszko: Ludobojstwo na ludności polskiej Wołynia 1939-1945 (eng:The Genocide Carried Out by Ukrainian Nationalists on the Polish Population of the Volhynia Region 1939-1945., Warsaw, 2000.

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