By January 1919, Polish troops completely repelled the Ukrainian army from the city of Lwów and a number of other places. It was expected that in the spring the Polish army will move into other parts of the country. As soon as the roads dried up, the war front quickly extended from Rawa Ruska through Lwów to the Carpathian Mountains. Ukrainians in our area started conscripting men into their army, regardless whether he was Ukrainian or Polish, old or young. My brother-in-law along with dozens of others were forced to join this army. Several newly married young women in our village suddenly became without husbands. Since most of these men were taken by force, they started deserting in large numbers. Ukrainian army police and the Sokol haydamak brigades, known for its brutality, were always on a lookout for the deserters. Branches of the Sokol brigades were nothing but unruly groups of robbers who performed such exploits that none of the other occupying nations did before. They were robbing and beating civilian people without any mercy. They took horses, cattle, grain, and even carpets and woman’s clothing, which I could not understand how these things were used by the military. They would come in and search for weapons behind paintings, for machine guns in coffers and take all the money and other valuable things they could find. They were burning villages, shooting people, burying people alive as it was in times of Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion described in the famous Sienkiewicz masterpiece: ‘With Fire and Sword’. We were all looking to the West, towards Lwów where fires of freedom were glowing and hopes of Polish liberation from the haydamak rule.
Despite the turbulent times, Ukrainian and Polish peasants plowed and sowed their fields with hope that finally there will be order and life will normalize. Even some of the Ukrainians who were just subscripted to their army, were hoping for the Polish army to come and put an end to this anarchy, which raged today.
At that time the Ukrainian National Bank issued new money, called ‘karbowańce,’ with which no one could buy or sell anything. Besides, the stores were completely empty in the cities, because there was nothing coming from the western Poland or Russia. If anyone had any items from the time of Austria or Russia, these were all hidden underground, since no one wanted to sell them for the worthless karbowańce.
A thriving black market developed and flourish mainly during the night. Hungry people from the towns and cities would bring some items to the villages and trade these for flour or other food. Ukrainian police at the same time would ransack entire blocks of houses, searching for hidden items and materials. Any item found was confiscated and the owner got few lashes or sometimes a bullet in the head as a payment. These confiscated items allegedly went to the army, but in fact they were divided among the members of the band.
The Ukrainian army did not have any supply magazines of clothing, weapons or food. After they got their guns from the then retreating Austrian or Russian soldiers, they lived from what they could steal from the civilian people. Large groups of these thugs went from place to place with their wives and children, taking by force the last cow, pig or any other domestic animal from the peasants.
People in villages were burying remnants of grain as not to die of hunger, because the harvest time was still far away.
That summer many people were murdered by these haydamak bands in the most horrific way. In Złoczów, they captured eighteen of the so called deserters and ordered them to dig their own common grave. When it was deep enough they hammered wooden spikes at the bottom of the pit to which they tied up all the men and then buried them alive. After the war, members of the League of Nations investigated those murders and dug the corpses out. Polish people later on built a beautiful mausoleum where they placed coffins with bones of these murdered people.
In our area they also killed several people in the Great Trościaniec, Olejów, Bzowica and Jezierna. Their last murder was an execution of the Białkowce mayor who was in fact, Ukrainian. I almost became their victim that same day as well, but by the grace of God I got out alive.
None of these haydamak members were honestly thinking about fighting for Ukraine. They traveled as armed gangs with their wives and children, living from robberies without doing any work. They forced the Poles to fight against their brothers for the freedom of Ukraine, while they moved from place to place taking whatever they could from the villagers. Poles taken to the front were either deserting to the Polish side, or were hiding fully armed in the attics or in the fields. Michał Smaruń taken to the front near Lwów fled immediately and joined the Polish army. Mikołaj, my brother-in-law and dozens of other Poles and Ukrainians escaped with guns and were hiding wherever they could.
One day a part of such a haydamak band came to Bogdanówka with their wives and children. That day they took a lot of clothes and linen from the villagers. They took a beautiful stallion, couple of cows and pigs from Łukasz Laskowski. They then killed the caws and the pigs on Sykora’s meadows by the Pająk house. They cut and cleaned all the meat by the pond and divided it among the members. Since it was a beginning of a hot summer, they made sausages and smoked some of this meet, thus preserving it for the future. That day they smoked sausages and baked bread in many homes. We had two ovens in our house which they took over without asking. Because they did not have anything to burn in these ovens, they took the boards which my father brought from Kabarowce stripped from an old war shelter. My father was ordered to take an axe and chop it up. When my father said that it was the material to repair our buildings, they just shouted;
“Chop the wood old man or the lightening will strike you.”
It was then that I remarked to my father, that when he was pointing out our misgivings, why he was now chopping his good boards for these bastards. Poor dad just squeezed his shoulders and kept chopping.
There were four stout women cooking sausages and baking bread in our ovens, while their husbands, with the ranks of officers, sat in the cool shade and drank vodka. Two young girls, about the same age as me, were kneading the dough. Afterwords they started putting away the warm sausages into a large trunk. I stood by and watched them work. One of them, a good-looking girl, asked me;
“Why are you looking at us?”
“I am looking and thinking that you must be getting very tired from all the hard work.”
“If you care so much, you would help us,” she said.
“You have a full trunk of sausages, if you would give me a piece then I would help such beautiful girls like you.”
“You are not kidding? Are you Ukrainian or God forbid, a Pole?”
“To tell you the truth, I am that God forbid Pole.”
“Only Ukrainians are allowed to eat sausages today.”
These words struck the nerve in me, for these no good for nothing bastards were burning our wood in our ovens, baking bread and cooking sausages from heifers and pigs stolen from the Polish people. In addition, they were trying to elevate themselves to the heights they most certainly have never been before in their life.
I withheld my anger and smiling said;
“I am only joking about these sausages, and the fact that I am a Pole is not my fault.”
When they finished their work, they washed their hands and one of them said;
“Now, Anastasia, we can have some sausages.”
Anastasia broke off a sizeable piece of a sausage and giving it to me, said;
“Here, have some and don’t tell anyone that pigs were here rather than people.”
This band was in our area for three days, after which they went towards Zborów.
Two days later, another band came to our village. They found a sack of wheat and some clothes buried in my uncle’s Ksenczyn barn. All the clothes were civilian, except for one military gala uniform which was brought from Bosnia by his son Jan during the Austrian rule. Some Ukrainian officer put on this beautiful dark blue uniform with red epaulets and two white stars, an insignia of Austrian corporal. Today this uniform was out of date and such brightly colored gala uniforms were no longer worn by any army. Jan’s wife, Stefania, began to cry, asking them to leave the wheat for her children’s bread, and that her husband was also in the war just like they are, and that she was Ukrainian. Nothing helped. When the woman began to pull on the officers shirt, he kicked her sore leg, on which she was convalescing for over three years, and he said;
“I shit on the Ukrainian who buries common peoples goods in the ground.”
They didn’t take anything from us that day, only one of these scoundrels told me to take my boots off. I wore a pair of military boots given to me by a young Austrian cadet, who lived for some time in our house. My boots however, were too small for this thief, so he threw them at me saying;
“The hell with you and your small Polish feet!”
From that time on I stopped wearing these boots and walked barefoot like a young athlete. Similar incidences were happening in many different areas every day of the week.
Translated by John Janiga