At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, socialist and democratic movements arose in Ukraine, seeking to create an independent Ukrainian state. After World War I, in the face of unsuccessful fights for independence, extreme nationalist slogans appeared in young Ukrainian circles, and the entire movement was called integral nationalism. Its creator was Dmitri Dontsov. Numerous organizations began to emerge, associating mainly the younger generation. In 1929, they merged into the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
The Sources of the Crime
The postulates of the OUN were the liberation of Ukraine from the hands of the Poles. For this, terror was acceptable and even considered necessary. The land was taken from the Poles by force.
Already at the beginning of World War II, some Ukrainian nationalists held talks with Germany. Some of them were even trained in Abwehr centers, e.g. in Krynica. The Germans never gave a direct assurance for the creation of an independent Ukrainian state, but it was in the Reich that the hope of gaining freedom was placed. It was believed that the actions carried out by the Germans would help in the elimination of Poles and Jews from “indigenously” Ukrainian areas.
Over time, it became more and more clear that Germany had no interest in the creation of an independent Ukraine. Although the attitude of the German occupant towards the Ukrainians was (at least usually) a bit more lenient than towards the Polish and Jewish population, the Ukrainians did not avoid being deported to camps and executed.
Some of the more agreeable members of the OUN tried to communicate with the Poles, but ultimately no talks took place.
The beginning of mass murders
The activities of the OUN were intensified with the start of the German offensive against the Soviet Union in June 1941. The first armed units were established in north-eastern Volhynia and Polesie under the leadership of Taras Borowć, aka Bulba terrace.
In order to encourage young people to join the fighting, in March 1943 a decision was made to create the Ukrainian Liberation Army. In April, the branches of the OUN numbered over 4,000. people. They began to be linked with the Ukrainian police (the Ukrainian police structures were established in these areas by Germany). In April 1943, a common name for them was adopted: the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), and preparations for a general uprising began, which were to cover the vast Ukrainian territories inhabited by Poles.
The insurgents’ actions were divided into three stages: shaping the sense of the need for armed struggle, the beginning of the revolution and the extermination of the inhabitants of Volhynia of non-Ukrainian nationality.
The actions of the Ukrainians were on hand to both the German and Soviet authorities, which is confirmed by the notes and reports of the commanders.
Actions against the Polish population were carefully planned, carried out according to orders from above. The first was to murder only men between the ages of 16 and 60, but no one followed from the beginning. Subsequent directives referred to the elimination of the entire “Polish element” regardless of gender and age.
In mid-1943, the most numerous units were subordinate to Bandera (8-10 thousand people). The second was Taras Bulba (4,000), and the third – Melnyk (2-3,000). Moreover, the mobilization possibilities reached even 10 thousand. armed. “Help” was also the so-called black, i.e. the local Ukrainian population who helped UPA troops.
From January 1943, attacks on individuals and villages began, mainly in the western part of Ukraine. They warned about the necessity to leave Ukraine within one day, and in the event of failure to comply with the order, the entire family was threatened with death. In April 1943, mass attacks on Polish villages and colonies throughout Volhynia began.
On July 11, a simultaneous attack on three counties was launched: Horochowski, Włodzimierski and Kowelski. It was a very well planned action. Everyone was ruthlessly murdered, regardless of age and gender (it was said that all Poles had to be murdered up to the seventh generation back). Some Poles managed to hide from the slaughter in larger cities, but there they fell into the hands of the Germans. Some villages organized a defense against UPA militants, but the Ukrainian troops were much better armed and outnumbered.
Each action began with the surroundings of the village. Ukrainians dressed in German and Soviet uniforms marched in the front row, followed mostly by the local Ukrainian population, the so-called black, including women, armed with sticks, knives, axes and pitchforks. Armed with firearms, they constituted about 40% of the group. It happened that the attacks were carried out only by the local population, with the help of only a few representatives of the UPA. According to various witnesses, the Germans were sometimes present during the attacks on Polish villages, and they managed the entire operation more than once.
In July, 28 Polish villages were attacked only in the Włodzimierz poviat, and around 167 villages in the entire Volyn region. At the end of the summer of 1943, Poles found themselves only in a few localities in Volhynia.
The Germans knew about the extermination of the Polish population in these areas, but they did not conduct any actions against the Ukrainians.
Some Ukrainians risked their own lives to save Polish families. Many Ukrainians who were suspected of collaborating and supporting Poles also died.
As a result of the actions of Ukrainian nationalists from the OUN and UPA in Volhynia in 1939-1945, about 50-60 thousand people died. Poles, although the exact number is still unknown. Some historians give a much larger number of people – even 150-200 thousand.
The discussion on the genocide in Volhynia and its scale is certainly not closed.