First days of Russian occupation in 1939-1940

First days of Russian occupation in Bogdanowka and surrounding area

I should shed a little light on how the first few days looked like for us under Russian occupation, and why the Polish people could accept it all, considering everything that was happening and hearing words that did not contain an element of truth. 

The first day they entered Bogdanowka, a Russian officer appeared with several soldiers in front of the municipal building and demanded to see the mayor and his staff, immediately. Mayor Nowak came forward accompanied by the secretary Tarkowski and Mr. Lifshitz. They were told to open the office where they immediately counted all the money in a safe, then the officer looked at the bookkeeping, typewriter and other equipment. As he departed he put the money in his briefcase, confiscated the typewriter and some other equipment, and then told the mayor, “You will remain in the office and continue performing your job and do not travel anywhere.” 

When everyone left the office, the officer shut and locked the door, put the key in his pocked and left without another word. The next day he returned and declared that a meeting be immediately called for all the inhabitants, whether Ukrainian or Polish, and that their attendance was mandatory so let no one dare to skip it. When everyone was assembled in the peoples hall, he came onto the stage and stated: “Poland no longer exists, this is the end of Polish rule. We will, therefore elect a new mayor and a municipal board as soon as possible.” 

One of the older Ukrainians remarked: “The old management was good and it should remain for the time being until everything returns to normal.” 

The officer glanced over at them and said sharply: “They are your Polish blood sucking lords!” 

You could hear several Ukrainians agreeing: “Yes, yes, comrade it is so.” 

Then the officer pulled out a piece of paper and announced: “I have a much better selection; for the mayor – Dmytro Mnyh, the administrator – Toma Nakonechny, and the secretary – Ivan Bohniak.” 

The audience just looked at each other and some shrugged their shoulders at this notion of a mayor Mnyh who was the worst drunk under the sun, a lazy bastard and a scoundrel to boot. The entire municipal board was also created by picking out similar people. 

I had seen elections to the Parliament, the region and community governments but nothing in my life matched this farce. Nakonechny for instance, was a hard working man and did not drink, but he was a completely illiterate, he could not even sign his name. This sad group were thus elevated to height of their fame, honour, and were about to rule the entire municipality. 

Similar elections were held throughout many collective municipalities. Literally none of the decent people were allowed into the system. In our collective municipality, the mayor presiding over seven villages was Stan Zwarych from Bialkowce. Stan was pretty well known as an idiot throughout the region. 

Soon, governors, prefects and other commissioners were selected in the same way from the worst thugs of humanity in our area. 

Petro Boyko was selected as a police commander and some other Ukrainians, who had never served in the military except for Boyko, as policemen. Boyko was an unbelievably spurious man and was suited for this job pretty well. 

* * *

By this point in time it was the Ukrainian bands who robbed and tore apart many mansions that were located just behind the war front. On that day they tore apart Mr. Sykora’s holdings. Because Mr. Sykora still lived in his mansion, they at first only took cattle, horses, hogs, wagons and farm tools. But things escalated for they smashed open the granary which held a number of grain crops. They took what ever they could carry. Not satisfied with this they attacked the heaps of grain sheaves in the fields. A swarm of riffraff, like bees from a beehive, ran in and out of the mansion repeatedly. 

Who knows how much grain was wasted for the whole road was covered with grain. They slaughtered pigs and cows and ate and drank for several days and nights. 

Looking at this mad mob I could not understand how these people could have changed so quickly? I came to the conclusion that even if Jesus Christ himself came down to earth from the heavens there would not be as much rejoicing as it was today. 

Although it was Sunday, you could not hear any church bells ringing. The local Ukrainian priest, Poznachowsky became a sad solitary figure. His sheep were engulfed by an unprecedented turn of frenzied events and he was the shepherd of this insane flock, unable to cope he quietly left and no one knew when and where he went. 

Mr. Hrechkosiy, had served in the Orthodox church for many years. He took over the role from his father, however he denied his church that day much as Judas did of Christ. If his father could rise from his grave and see his son today, he would have probably rolled over several times in disgust. I could not get my head around such behaviour. His daughters, who were well known singers in the Orthodox church and sung with enthusiasm — ‘My Hochem Boha’ (We want God), today the same God for them was completely unnecessary. Sodom and Gomorrah personified! That day Hrechkosiy looked indifferently at the ancient church, where his grandfathers and great-grandfathers had for 280 years bowed their heads and sang ‘Hospody Pomyluy’ (Have mercy on us). 

That Sunday there was no divine sacrifice on the holy altar. Candles were not burning, there was no smell of incense nor was there anyone whispering a prayer. A Tsarist gate inside the church was closed seemingly forever and behind it were the icons of all the saints and almighty God, who sadly looked down into the emptiness and the deathly silence that was surprisingly surrounding them today. 

This account is a testament which should be passed down to future generations so that no one will treat these blasphemous people with any respect. As long as blood is flowing in my veins, I will not be able to trust such people and think of them as being anything but unreliable at best. 

The Polish people regarded all this with a teary eyes and a heavy heart. They were worried about what was coming the next night and the one after that. They were very sad times for us Poles. 

After one week under the new administration in our village, a Komsomol of young Ukrainians was created. 

* * *

One evening, as I was coming from my father-in-laws, I found Michal Shamryk crouching under a window of my house. When questioned on what he was doing and why, he did not reply, he just went in the direction of the community hall. I was certain that he was sent by someone to keep a watch on what I do and what was being said in my house. 

Maybe a week later communal board arrived with an order that I was now going to issue detailed leave passes to people when required. They would specify who and where they were going and for what purpose. Issuing illegal passes was threatened with severe punishment. The use of passes did not last very long however, and I was very happy to get rid of an unpleasant and time consuming job. 

Boyko as the police commander, must have been very good at his job at least as far as the District commander in Zborow was concerned. For Boyko was soon transferred to Zborow to administer a prison full of political inmates. When Boyko left, mayor Mnyh came and asked me to take Boyko’s place as commander of the police. 

“Mnyh you must be kidding?” I said, “You all know that I am Polish, and it would be totally unacceptable for me to have police authority over the Ukrainians since Poland does not even exist today. Ukrainians themselves would be against you when in fact that position most definitely belongs to a Ukrainian.” 

With that quick thinking I was able to get out of this dubious honour. 

After that they did not return or bother me anymore. They had reported, however to Stan Zwarych that Domanski was not following orders. The next day a policeman from the Sykora’s mansion in Bialkowce came with an order from Zwarych, it said: “You are hereby ordered to bring the military owned horse, which you brought back from the front, to the Sykora’s farm at once.” 

I took the horse and delivered it as requested. On my way home I stopped in front of the mansion because this was the day Sykora had been told by the Russian authority to vacate his home. A regular peasant’s cart was standing at the front door into which Sykora had put some bedding, clothes, his wife and two kids. The rest of his belongings he left behind. There were many people in the courtyard, some came out of curiosity while many others from desire to loot as soon as Sykora had left his stately home. Sykora said goodbye to the people with a wave of his hand and drove the cart away through the courtyard gate. 

My God, what happened after was really worth seeing. This bizarre mob raged. By evening that beautiful mansion was devastated. Even though the rooms and all the appliances could have been used for the good of the people such as a school, post office or community offices. The bulk of the mob ransacked the huge basement where there were juices, jams and wine. They got drunk on the wine, and started singing, jumping and breaking empty bottles against the walls. Some started shooting at the chickens, ducks and partridges in the park. Some who were craftier didn’t drink any wine, they looted the rooms instead taking clothing, shoes, bedding, curtains and other wall hangings. It was a mob looting frenzy. 

Boyko arrived along with some Russians and put a stop to the looting. He said everything would be taken to the club where it would be divided up according to a set plan. 

Singing and shouting in honour of Stalin, was heard from late Saturday night to early Sunday morning coming out of the Sykora mansion. 

On Sunday morning, all the items from the mansion were taken to the People’s Hall and piled in a large heap. There were a lot of goods such as, cabinets and trunks full of belongings. Many beautiful dishes and tableware with engraved monograms, most of which came from the time when the old Sykora was in power. There were some fashionable clothes and much that had gone out of fashion years ago. There were mattresses, pillows, quilts, tapestries and carpets. There was also no shortage of ladies clothing and toiletry items. All clothing items had been carefully cleaned and pressed, because Mrs. Sykora was a lady who liked to keep everything neat and tidy. 

A large number of the mob gathered in the club waiting for the division of the spoils. They were poised like vultures over a kill. Boyko kept control of the proceedings armed with a revolver at his waist, accompanied by two policemen armed with rifles. There was a telephone and gramophone installed in the hall operated by Mikhail Onysko. To stave off boredom of the slowness of the proceedings, many of the mob sipped on 55 percent vodka and ate the quality sausages made from Sykora’s hogs. 

None of those in charge were sober. Mr. Mnyh who was the head of our community was dead drunk every day and while in that state he pestered many young women. Suddenly his wife Alexandra seemed too old for him. 

I looked over this so called planned division of the seized items and I couldn’t help but smile to myself wondering what would be next to be doled out. I quietly stood, watching, storing the images in my brain in a sort of bizarre film. 

Soon a large suitcase that had belonged to the nursemaid and teacher or governess, of the Sykora children was opened. They knew it was hers because of the photographs inside. The brightly coloured undergarments were neatly kept. Since she was a sophisticated woman, she liked to wear stylish clothing. There was no shortage of beautiful dresses, slips and nightgowns edged with delicate lace. I had to laugh, when I saw the local women smelling the suitcase and saying in amazement, ‘Smell this woman’s dresses, how fragrant they are.’ 

Finally the time came for this treasure be doled out. The situation got ugly for many of the mob wanted the same dress or knickknack. Some of the women argued and pulled and snatched at the same item. Suddenly, there in the middle of the hall, it became a senseless mob scene where many fought over items, which eventually were torn to pieces. 

I was shocked and horrified to witness such a spectacle. 

Gradually the chaos eased and at this point only one thing remained, a big carpet from the Sykora main salon. The dilemma was that there was only one carpet and everyone wanted it. Even though it would not fit into any other home in the village. It was a beautiful Persian carpet. A possible resolution to this problem came when old Hilko Olinyk entered the hall. After hearing about the fight over the disposition of the carpet, he said: “What are you people doing? You would destroy such an expensive beautiful thing. You should put it in the Orthodox church so it will be for all to use. If ever old Sykora returns he can take it back.” 

The mob were outraged at this suggestion, calling the old man a fool and pushed him out of the hall. The old man shrugged his shoulders and walking away, saying: “You people you are no longer human. You are worse than animals because you have sold your souls to the devil.” 

Undaunted they hacked the carpet into four pieces to dole it out. 

* * *

That evening there was a huge dance in the Sykora mansion. Many Ukrainian beauties attended dressed in silk slips which were deliberately worn almost down to their heels so everyone could see ‘what a beautiful slip I have.’ The music was very loud and singing could be heard all the way to our Bogdanowka. I was not privileged to witness this sumptuous ball but later I heard all the details. 

It was apparently the wildest mob dance ever seen in Bogdanowka or Bialkowce. Everyone was drunk, singing and acted crazily. Some young men and women were observed in the distance shamefully having sex under the pine trees. Passion reigned supreme. That day there was no shame no sin or restraint, because there was no God therefore there was no sin. The new laws had deleted the seemingly old and stupid rules of law and order. So every transgression received some form of absolution without any restriction. 

A few days after this grand ball, Ivan Hrechkosiy came over and told me that I had to go to Zborow to attend a regional meeting. I had no options so if I must go then go I would. 

Stan Zwarych was also going to this meeting but he was riding in a beautiful horse-drawn carriage pulled by two chestnut horses, they had belonged to Sykora. Stan, being a leader, was dressed in Sykora’s fur coat and rich looking wolf skin boots. For his pleasure he had a bottle of Baczewski rye vodka which he sipped from time to time. Stan was riding first, I was following him with four deputies in a horse-drawn cart. 

Near Zborow, Stan ordered a halt and called out to Mnyh: “Do you want some vodka?” 

“Do you have to ask?” Replied Mnyh hoarsely. 

They drank from a bottle, taking turns until there was only a little left. Stan then offered it to me saying: “Drink the rest of it Domanski because I cannot take this bottle into the office.” 

I thought to myself, my God, for them this really is paradise on earth. They considered themselves as the lords and me as their servant. I found this impossible to accept. 

When the meeting was over all the deputies went to Czaczkesa for dinner and more vodka. I followed in their foot steps because I was very hungry and there was heavy rain lashing us something awful. Stan caught me at the dinner table and asked: “So, what’s new Mr. Domanski?” 

“The novelty of our situation has already paled,” I replied. 

“Domanski, why didn’t you want to be the police commander? Do you know who was giving this job to you?” 

“I don’t know for sure, but I think it was most probably Stan Zwarych.” 

“It was not only Stan, but someone much higher!” 

From that moment on they began to harass me like some dog, if it wasn’t to go to meetings then it was for some other job, it was endless. I sensed that they were doing this not from necessity but to harass me. 

* * *

Soon after the Russians took control, they instituted a general type of clean up in all the cities. They took all the remaining stock from the stores, which already contained very little, and placed it into one large repository supposedly it would, under the supervision of the authorities, be distributed to the people. 

Nothing much came of that plan because after one week, all the counters were wiped clean and completely empty. Russian officers and soldiers bought it all out down to the last scrap with rubles, and either sent or drove these goods to their families in Russia. 

The streets and squares of the cities were soon renamed with Russian names. All the monuments depicting Polish culture were torn or cut down and in their place were erected statues of Stalin, Lenin and other Russian heroes. In Tarnopol they cut down the bronze statue of Pilsudski that stood in the city center. Russian red flags were hanging everywhere. 

By late autumn there was lack of the most basic items needed for life, such as salt, sugar and naphtha, not to mention any materials for clothing or footwear. The pace of the war was swift but not as swift as the robberies that were lightening quick. In some villages, the mobs cleaned up everything so quickly that even the Russians were surprised having such great rivals to contend with. 

Although Russia was proclaiming that the land belong to the people, the fields were only filled with white stubble. The stacks of grain in the granaries were allegedly to wait to be shared by the people, however the local proletariat did not wait for that time, they took everything away within few days. 

War was over, it was announced on the radio continuously, but a whole horde of troops rode every day towards Lwow and further on to a new frontier on the River Bug. Everyone who saw this, asked, “If the war is over where are all these divisions going?” 

Despite the Ribbentrop – Molotov Pact, Germans and Russians did not really believe in each other. 

The war ended only in Poland, but in the other parts of the world it was only in the preparatory stages and who knew what turn it would take next? 

Pacts signed solemnly on paper as everlasting friendships, could tomorrow fall into the garbage can, and hearty handshakes between the diplomats could easily change into threatening fist. 

Day after day was passing slowly and life was becoming more and more difficult without any sight of a better tomorrow. 

Somewhere in the distance thundered cannons, it was the Russian army carrying out grand maneuvers wanting to show the people their strength and power. As a result of these loud explosions, naive people created a variety of stories and rumours. One such story was that the Polish army was attacking Soviet troops coming from Hungary through the Carpathian Mountains and similar stupid anecdotes. Others consoled themselves, by saying that radio broadcasts from abroad were clearly saying that Santa Claus will bring Polish people a wonderful gift. Although radios from Romania and Hungary gave broadcasts in Polish, it was just to keep up the spirit of the Polish people which was at it’s lowest levels. 

We knew that in France, the Polish government and the army under the command of General W. Sikorski had been formed, but what the result of that would be anyone’s guess. 

The Polish in our community would gather in the evenings at some stable in order to share the news but they had to be very careful not to come to the attention of the Ukrainian young Komsomol. 

* * *

During my days off I would go to plow the fields out of boredom even though I knew perfectly well that I will not sow seed on them. 

When the looting of the mansions and palaces was just about done, they started to take over more affluent Polish farms, the so called ‘kulaks.’ Jozef Gerc was displaced from his farm to the house of Nakonechny Tom. Tom was relocated on Gerc farm. Nakonechny, who was now through no effort on his own an owner of a beautiful farm, threw parties every day, drinking and eating all night long. 

My father-in-law Michal Olender was evicted from his farm house, all of his barns, stacks of grain, cattle and horses were taken away and given to the likes of Shayak, Rehorchyha and others. 

They took away the farm and house from my brother-in law Michal Swirski and gave it all to Hryc Totosko. 

Jan Olender was displaced from his farm and Peter Shnurowski with Peter Pochatek took over. 

All the new farmers by the grace of the new order, were farming for the time being as only they new best, which was eating and drinking and doing no work. They drank vodka not by the bottle but by the bucket. 

Ivan Boyko became the administrator of Potocki’s land in Pomorzany and the Commissioner of all the grain mills in the county of Zborow. His brothers, Petro was the commander of the prison in Zborow, and Michal was riding horses between Zborow and Pomorzany and hauling everything he could back home. In Boyko’s place, you could find whatever the soul desired. 

Hryc Totosko considered himself to be a real lawyer. He was no longer making shoes. Who would be so stupid as to sit over some old boots when his barn was filled to the brim with grain even though there was no harvest. This all became a reality as a result of the new Stalin’s law. Dmytro Mnyh and Stan Zwarych behaved like lords enjoying great power, because of their status they could drink like Grisha Rasputin did, by the jugful. 

There were many more examples but it is very difficult to list them all. 

In late autumn, the Russians demanded that a classroom be created in every twelfth house in the village so that the Russian constitution could be taught to all. At that time, Mnyh and Hrechkosiy came to me and I was ordered to be the teacher of the constitution from newly distributed books. I tried to make all sorts of excuses without much success and eventually I had to do it. 

* * *

Christmas in 1939 was very quiet in the village, as never before. There was no singing of carols or observance of any of the national traditions. Instead of traditional Midnight Mass, our sickly priest celebrated an early Mass very quietly, and that was all. 

Polish people in the village were secretly collecting some food and coal for the poor man to help him survive the hunger and cold. 

Ukrainians, who still believed in God, prayed at home or went to the Polish church because the Orthodox church from September 18 on was without its shepherd or its sheep. 

The New Year celebration in 1940 was to be, at the request of the municipal council, very festive and magnificent. A large spruce tree was dressed up with candles and stars in the school, over which an image of Stalin was placed. This festive celebration, however, was directed only at the school children. The ceremony was opened by Mr. Hrechkosiy, who in his speech presented Stalin as the new God and father of the working class people. 

“There is no God or any kind of Christmas. There’s only New Year as a holiday of the whole proletarian world. Stalin and not any God gives you candy, and for this lets shout out loud three times, long live Stalin!” 

Children were then given packages of candy. My daughter, Emilia, coming home from school with tears in her eyes and carrying candies in her hands, said to me: “I will not eat them because they are not Polish.” 

“It’s all right Emilia,” I said trying to console her, “because these candies were taken from our Polish store.” 

“How can I go to school now when the Ukrainian boys tell me, your dad will not ride the horse in the national ‘The Third of May’ parade carrying a saber. That is all over now.” 

I could see the intense pain in my child’s eyes. Yet I knew, that those words must have been picked up at home for the children were not savvy enough about such matters. 

The New Year dance that year was organized and held at night in the Peoples Hall. It was very similar to the ball which not long ago was held in Sykora’s mansion. 

* * *

Later on a library was created by the Komsomol. Also a youth choir was organized under the direction of a choir master, postmaster Kuhta native of Zabultowo. He took this job seriously and worked hard at it, for being a Pole, if he didn’t try hard he was afraid of repercussions and possible criminal charges that were so easy to get. He was assisted by Mykola Petryshyn whose mother, Julka, was very happy that Mykola was striving for higher positions. 

Today all the scoundrels, all rural scumbags who didn’t know how to manage their own home, were reaching for the honour and authority within the municipal, county and even national state if they could. 

Fedko Grabovski’s wife,Tekla, felt honoured to be a councillor, sitting on the stage with Russian officers and delivering speeches whenever she wanted. Surely this was a privilege to be able and go to Brzezany to attend council meetings as a representative councillor for the working class. No one would dare ask if she was capable or qualified to do this job. Few people lived like her, as happy as pierogis in butter, where many others were forced daily to dig and level ground for the expansion of the railway track, or to shovel snow and other labouring work for no pay. 

Those in power were well fed, well dressed and mostly drunk, while their henchmen were walking from house to house with clubs and rifles, yelling: “Get out to work, right now or you’ll get a whipping” 

By January 1940 it was evident that even the riffraff were getting somewhat saddened. There were no more pigs or heifers to slaughter and the pantries were empty. The emptier the stomach the greater was the depression. 

Since there was nothing to buy anywhere, a tremendous black market developed. Urban population were trading their last pieces of clothing and footwear for bread, flour and other foodstuffs, so they would not starve to death. People from the villages went to Tarnopol, Lwow and other cities to get clothes or shoes for their children. This type of trade did not escape the attention of the occupying authorities, who began widespread arrests for alleged profiteering. This was not speculative trading at all. This was for people to get the necessities of life otherwise they would be barefoot or even naked come winter. The city folks obviously could not eat the bricks from their houses. 

Jails were soon filled with the so called speculators no matter if they were a Pole, Ukrainian or a Jew. Complaining about the poverty would get you behind bars as a political enemy of the Soviet Soyuz. During that time you had to be deaf, blind and silent as a rock. In order to be that way, you had to have nerves of a zombie because those alive couldn’t do it.

Jan Domański
Translated by John Janiga

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