Ukrainian-Polish relationship under Russian Occupation in 1939
The Russian army was commanded by General Timoshenko who was installed on purpose by the Russians so that the Ukrainian populace would more easily accept the Russian plans for the occupied territories.
Although the Ukrainians greeted them with their national flags, they nevertheless looked at all this with fear, knowing that it all would end someday when Russia would show them her true face.
Timoshenko’s army carried millions of propaganda leaflets, which they spread over many towns and villages on the first day. The leaflets depicted Poles plowing the fields with the Ukrainians pulling the plows. While another, showed Poles mercilessly whipping Ukrainian barefoot children collecting potatoes in the fields, thousands of other similar themed leaflets were widely distributed.
Besides the leaflets there were huge banners erected depicting images of a paradise on earth created by the great Stalin, as the benevolent father of the working class people around the world. All of this propaganda was directed mainly at the Ukrainians, Belorussians and Jews.
I distinctly remember most of the content of one of those leaflets which went something like this:
“Ukrainians, Belorussians and Jews, Polish lordships does not exist. These blood suckers escaped to Romania and left you all in here. Our brave and elite army came to your assistance and to free you from their captivity and authority.”
Megaphones on heavily armored cars driving on the city streets were broadcasting nonstop, how the brave and elite Russian army is engaged in bloody battles on Poland’s behalf.
Every real Pole resented this propaganda since in truth the Russian army had marched into Poland as if in a parade without firing a single shot.
The leaflets were also calling for all the Ukrainians and Jews to fight what remained of the Polish troops who were allegedly hiding in the forest. “Kill their officers” they proclaimed . “Do not let them escape the hand of justice of the Russian government who want to avenge them for your misery, blood and tears.”
It was very difficult for me to read this propaganda and remain calm, knowing that I as a Pole, had no more rights than my Ukrainian neighbor. We all had to work hard and endure our life burdens.
Ukrainian bands followed this Russian directive and throughout our area they not only disarmed, they also stripped the returning soldiers many of whom had already been disarmed. This practice grew in scope to an insane level where many soldiers were murdered in the most horrific ways.
In the Zborow district the disarmament policy when compared to other counties was quite mild. However, in the southern and eastern counties such as Tarnopol, Zbaraz, Czortkow, Stanislavov and others, it was something beyond human comprehension. The captured soldiers were ordered to kneel and say in Ukrainian ‘Our Father and Hail Mary’ (‘Otcze nasz and Boharodyce’). If it was a soldier from the borderlands (Kresy) knowledgeable in the Ukrainian language, he was able to go home. If the soldier was from Western or Central Poland, he was really an unlucky victim. He was told to completely undress and shout ‘long live Ukraine’ (‘naj żywe Ukraina’). If he didn’t do it or he could not understand it, he was killed immediately. These murders got to a point where soldiers returning from the front would go to the Russian troops and ask to be taken as prisoners of war. The Russians finally grasped the depths of the extreme Ukrainian nationalism. In that the Soviets actually meant little or nothing to the Ukrainians.
The Russian NKVD knew all about the Poles and Ukrainians and it became evident that they did not come only to tame the Poles but also to weed out the Ukrainian nationalists. They had a very well trained staff to do the job. They fully understood that the Polish people had always hated Russia and showed it openly. In contrast, the Ukrainians were considered in a different light, enthusiastically welcoming the incoming Russian tanks, but their thoughts and actions had shifted in a completely different direction.
As a result, the Russians quickly banned the unveiling of the light blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. Next came orders banning the murders with threats of courts martial for those who did not obey. So in a very short time many of those so called Ukrainian heroes were placed under the microscope of the NKVD.
It was strange to see that some propaganda leaflets were now being printed in Polish. This partial relaxation of Soviet dictates made one think that the Russians now wanted to learn from the Poles something about the Ukrainians. To fully understand the problems, they needed to look into more than just one window.
The Ukrainian people in Poland, at that time, could be grouped into several camps or groups, for instance;
- The illiterate simpletons followed the Russian slogans that stated (‘Teper washe vsio’) ‘now its all yours’ and that finally he would become the master.
- The second group, led by the clergy and intelligentsia such as lawyers, engineers, teachers of all academic levels, civil servants and private businessmen, as well as the Pro-secular, Cooperatives, Nationalist-soyuz and “Ridna” school. They were well organized into teams who were tuning the people like the proverbial violin that was playing to the Ukrainian nationalistic tune.
An auxiliary force in the execution of their plans was an agricultural organization whose mission was allegedly to raise the Ukrainian farmer to a higher stature in the most rundown villages. It was a sinister organization dressed in the skin of an innocent lamb (“śilskyj Hospodar”) “Solid Farmer” and the insurance agency “Dnister.”
Ukrainian newspapers coming out of (Małopolska) Little-Poland region did not write very much about political issues knowing that, many organizations were working for them in the background so were very careful so that this could not be easily detected.
The greatest attention was paid to the organizations directly involved with military training (“Sokol and Zuh”) “Falcon and Lad.” In reality it was a cadre from which the young Ukrainian freedom fighters would come out in the future.
- The third group were (“Starorusini”) “Old Russians” who would not acknowledge having any alliances with the Ukrainians. However they were still quite sympathetic towards Poland. In 1914-1918, they were (“Moskalo-filami”) “Muscovite-phials” and bitter enemies of Austria, but now they made an about face because Tzarist Russia was gone.
- The fourth group was an independent group who did not care who was in power as long as they had the freedom to work and bread to eat. This last group was neither helpful nor harmful to Poland.
Russia wanted to know not only the ideals of certain groups or organizations but even down to what the individuals were thinking, and that is why they used policies that were so twisted that it was difficult to figure out what they really meant.
They knew about all the organizations whether they be Polish or Ukrainian from the outset of the invasion.
Who gave them all this information or how they obtained it so quickly was not known.
They had a very good intelligence network in Poland before the war, which with the help of the Polish Jews worked quite well. The information they had, however, was only general in nature and it did not shed clear light on what was happening in individual organizations. Now it was necessary for them to have more detailed information and thanks to a variety of people they learned everything. Those who could see more clearly through all this, saw that just behind the front army lines there were divisions of another character whose task was to change the entire economy of the country. These were administrative units for propaganda, education, police and the NKVD.
In the first phase, in any occupied country, the most important role to create was by far the administrative branch. Immediately after invading Poland, Russians changed administrations of provinces, counties, municipalities, and then in the post offices, all school levels, factories, mills, shops, forests, sawmills and farms.
After all, the most important issue was the control of all those facets of society.
Why, you might ask, was there such a hurry, for those offices did not hold stockpiles of gold, or other valuables?
It was about something else. Namely records.
It was very well known fact that the Polish authorities kept accurate detailed records of all the organizations in its provinces, districts and municipalities. They kept ledgers of an organization’s members names and what they were all about.
There were also many remarks made by the administrators on how the organization grew, what was it’s nature, whether it was favourable to the national interests, etc.
Poland’s administrators perhaps did not have the time or did not want to destroy these records, so all this information fell into the hands of Russian authorities, a veritable gold mine. The documentation was very important, because it was like a photocopy of the livelihood of the whole country.
This seizing of information was not very surprising because if someone takes your land away then he must find out what is on that land and how to use it for his benefit.
The Russians by getting these valuable documents had a clear picture of where they were, whom they were dealing with and so knew what they should do next.
However to ensure a smooth transition they had to win over Ukrainians and a large part of the Jewish population to their side. These two factions seeing themselves as being distinguished, and able to become more important and perhaps more secure started fabricating various stories and different versions of Polish oppression.
However the Russians soon realized that the Ukrainians and Jews were intertwining truth and lies against the Poles, so they changed direction a bit and started to say at various meetings that ‘to them everyone is equal.’
In this way they were attempting to sway the Poles over to their way of thinking and so find out from them what the Ukrainian activists were thinking about.
The Poles were completely sidelined without any power or authority, so were reluctant to discuss much on these topics. Silence was the best policy.
There were some people however, whose blood would boil when they heard some of the stories, and in their own defense, would say that Ukrainians were not much better. They would say that the Ukrainians, under the Polish administration, created disturbances which could not be tolerated by the government and further that the Ukrainians were maintaining contact with Hitler, who was promising them (” samostijnu ukrainu”) ‘Independent Ukraine’ by annexing from Poland the entire Malopolska region and from Russia the Ukraine lands as far as the River Don.
As a result of these rifts between people of two nations who had been living beside each other for as long as anyone can remember, the Russians easily learned about the life of any particular person of interest, who he was, what he was thinking, etc.
These seemingly simple details gave Russians additional vital information.
The Russians and Germans were making new borders on the River Bug, and they most certainly were not thinking about creating some kind of (‘Samostijnu Ukrainu’) ‘Independent Ukraine.’
Russia had big reservations about the Ukrainian nationalist parties, for they knew that in Poland they had equal rights and yet they were still not satisfied, so would be even less content under total Russian authority.
Within the Russian ruling Communist Party in Poland it was evident that the Jews were the shrewdest faction, along with some of the smarter Ukrainians or Poles, while the rest were basically just hopeless mob suitable only for creating destruction and looting. In the short time that it was allowed, Ukrainian mobs took and plundered whatever they could so that they would finally get rich, become mansion masters, drink and have fun but they had no intention of building a state modeled on kolkhoz or state farms. The Russians certainly believed that in the (Sovieckom Sojuzie) Soviet Soyuz this would not be the way, that they would harness this riffraff and then show them the true face of USSR, but this was not the time it was far too early.
That was the approximate state of affairs, of the Ukrainian-Polish relationship, how their politics looked like at that point in time and how the politics were being manipulated by the Russian army in the occupied Polish territories.