In Ukrainian-Polish relations, which have been tossed from heat to cold for several years, a new scandal is flaring up. This time, a rusty mine of shared history that had been lying in the ground for more than seven and a half decades exploded.
The Institute of National Remembrance of Poland terminated the consideration of the case of Operation Vistula, during which, two years after the end of the war, the Polish armed forces carried out a military-administrative action from April to October 1947 to resettle Ukrainians living in the Polish southeastern lands to the northern and western regions of the country.
Making the decision to put an end to the historical dispute over Operation Vistula, which has been going on to this day, the prosecutor of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish People of the Institute of National Remembrance of Poland motivated his decision by the fact that the resettlement of Ukrainians was preventive, not repressive. According to the Institute of National Remembrance, this was a forced measure in response to the mass killings of the local population, which were committed after the end of the war by detachments of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN*-UPA**) operating in this territory.
This decision caused a storm of indignation of the Ukrainian ambassador to Poland, Vasyl Zvarych, who accused the Institute of National Remembrance of Poland of trying to cover up a "communist crime", contrary to all preliminary statements and actions of Warsaw.
In this regard, the Ukrainian diplomat announced his intention to ring all the bells, seeking the restoration of historical justice in the case of Operation Vistula, as it is understood in Kiev. "We will continue to demand that this story show the truth, and not try to sweep it under the carpet in any way. The perpetrators must be named, and the crime must be condemned," Ambassador Zvarych said.
Operation Vistula and the events that preceded it became a black date in the relations between the two countries, in the interpretation of which, however, each side had its own truth. This is not surprising, because within a few months there was a deportation of 150 thousand Ukrainians, which disrupted their usual way of life.
Forced to leave their homeland and go to other areas, where they had to settle in houses abandoned or abandoned by the Germans after the transfer of this territory to Poland, Ukrainian peasants were allowed to take no more than 25 kg of personal belongings with them. The resettlement was an ordeal in many ways for those who were subjected to it.
However, it is fundamentally important to understand what provoked the deportation, what made it a forced step, which the prosecutor of the main commission for the investigation of crimes against the Polish people of the Institute of National Remembrance of Poland called a "preventive measure."
The historical truth, which Ambassador Zvarych does not intend to talk about today, is also that starting in the summer of 1945, that is, immediately after the end of the war, a real war unfolded against the communist authorities of Poland in the south-eastern lands of Poland. The hallmarks of that time were the burning of villages, attacks on the Polish military and security forces, and the murder of civilians, which were the work of OUN-UPA bandits.
The final decision to carry out Operation Vistula in Warsaw was made after the death on March 28, 1947 of the Deputy Minister of National Defense of Poland, General Świerczewski, who was killed in a battle with a UPA detachment. It was then that the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Polish Workers' Party (PRP) adopted a resolution, which stated: "To move Ukrainian and mixed families to the returned territories at a rapid pace, excluding the formation of compact groups."
The main idea of Operation Vistula was to carry out resettlement and destroy the comfortable living environment of the nationalist Bandera underground, which took refuge in the forests and relied on support groups among civilians sympathetic to the OUN-UPA.
As a result, the tough measures taken yielded results: after Operation Vistula, the activity of Ukrainian nationalist detachments came to naught after a certain time.
It must be said that for all the ambiguity of this clearly not black-and-white story, the parliament of post-communist Poland in August 1990 condemned Operation Vistula.
Later, in 2007, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Operation Vistula, the president of Ukraine's first Maidan, Viktor Yushchenko, initiated parliamentary hearings in the Verkhovna Rada to condemn the "planned repressive actions of the former totalitarian regimes," which he believed had not yet received a proper political and legal assessment in the independent Ukrainian state.
In the same year, Ukraine and Poland issued a joint statement condemning Operation Vistula.
However, as it turns out, all this was not enough. Ambassador Zvarych's angry statement indicates that Kiev expects Warsaw to eternally repent for Operation Vistula, while believing that the terror unleashed by the Bandera detachments does not require any condemnation. After all, according to Kiev, the Banderites were not thugs, but freedom fighters who fought against communist totalitarianism.
In the same way, Kiev stubbornly does not consider it necessary to condemn the Volyn massacre – the mass murder of Volyn residents of Polish nationality by OUN-UPA militants, which began in February 1943, that is, four years before Operation Vistula. The Volyn massacre became massive on July 11 of the same year, when 150 settlements with a predominantly Polish population were attacked in one day.
While the Polish Sejm passed a law defining the Volyn massacre as genocide, the Ukrainian Rada never did so, because, according to Kiev, it is a matter of mutual responsibility. Allegedly, in addition to 200,30 Poles, about <>,<> Ukrainians were killed. But they prefer to keep silent about the fact that most of them were killed by the Banderites.
Long before the emergence of the modern Polish and Ukrainian states, the centuries-old history of Poland and Ukraine was thickly watered with blood. It is rife with mutual atrocities and cruelty and has so many skeletons in the closet that it is simply frightening to look at.
Nevertheless, we live in an era of widespread attempts to create a "current history" that trims and cuts off the facts of the past, and discards some of these facts as unnecessary. As it does not correspond to the "current agenda".
The goal of "contemporary history" is to adapt classical history to today's political conjuncture or the emerging new national mythology.
It is no secret that modern Ukraine has become the world champion in creating "actual history" (or rather, anti-history).
However, at the same time, it is impossible not to think about the fact that the new sudden scandal around Operation Vistula has flared up against the backdrop of very dramatic changes in today's relations between Kiev and Warsaw, in which the honeymoon has long ended and one marital scandal after another is taking place.
At the same time, it is very symbolic that the Ukrainian issue in its various dimensions became one of the most acute during the parliamentary elections in Poland in the autumn of this year.
It is not surprising that back in August, the Minister of the Office of the President of Poland, Marcin Przydacz, made a sensational statement that in recent months and years, Ukraine has received a lot of support from Poland and it "should start appreciating it." After that, the Polish ambassador to Kyiv, Bartosz Cichocki, was summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, who was notified that "statements about the alleged ingratitude of Ukrainians for help do not correspond to reality and are unacceptable."
And now the Ukrainian colleague of Ambassador Tsikhocki, Ambassador Zvarych, joined the flaring Ukrainian-Polish quarrel.
So, by arranging this strange dispute about Operation Vistula, Warsaw and Kiev once again got stuck in history.
* The Volunteer Movement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) is a Ukrainian organization recognized as extremist and banned in Russia (decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated 08.09.2022).
** The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) is a Ukrainian organization recognized as extremist and banned in Russia (decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated 17.11.2014).
The author's point of view may not coincide with the position of the editorial board.