Kyiv Post | 24Feb2018 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
Taking on Timothy Snyder
In a recent interview, Timothy Snyder misses the mark. The
American expert on the complex history of Eastern Europe fails to
establish cause and effect between the oppressive Polish regime in
western Ukraine and the resistance that followed in the years leading
up to World War II.
important, Snyder is inconsistent in supporting Ukraine’s right to
resist foreign occupation of its territories. He clearly understands
resistance to Russian aggression today but not to Ukraine’s resistance
to Poland’s oppression of the past.
przed prawdą,” Fear of the Truth, Polityka, on
Feb. 7, 2018, with Sławomir Sierakowski, Snyder takes a pro-Polish
He favors the perpetrator rather than the victim. Ukraine, meanwhile,
views resistance as a requirement to the defense of its population and
to its national survival.
brief history of the issue may be helpful.
1919, the Treaty of Versailles ceded western Ukraine -- for centuries
of the Hapsburg Empire -- for 25 years to Poland at which time
appeal for independence would be reviewed. Poland, however, was
determined to keep Malo-Polska, little Poland, as it liked to call it,
for itself. It subjected the five million Ukrainians to
institutionalized discrimination, oppression and hate.
by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and, later, the Ukrainian
Insurgent Army, or UPA, they resisted. Today’s uproar between the two
states is rooted in this period.
Snyder fails to acknowledge that Ukraine had
a right to protect itself against Poland’s institutionalized grab just
like later -- during World War II -- both countries resisted Germany’s
aggression and today, Ukraine wages the same resistance against
Russia’s occupation of its sovereign territories.
his important book, “Bloodlands,” the author illuminates the central
position of Ukraine leading up to and during World War II. However, he
shies away from giving Ukraine’s resistance its due: the right to fight
back the oppressor.
does so again in the interview. He denies Ukraine the right to resist
aggression perpetrated in Ukraine by Poland especially when it is at
the point of a gun. However, this is a right accorded other nations.
Israel, fighting British rule in Palestine, for example, comes to mind.
Snyder, however, chooses to see Ukraine’s efforts to establish
self-determination as aggression: the victim is the criminal.
is an outdated view. It’s encouraging, therefore, that in dealing with
today’s fight against Russia, Snyder supports Ukraine and condemns
The double standard begs the question: Why is Ukraine’s fight
freedom against Russia acceptable to him but that against Poland was
views matter because there is treachery in raking up old Poland-Ukraine
animosities today. The greatest beneficiary is no other than Russia’s
Polish politicians have gone as far as to propose undemocratic
legislation denying Polish citizenship to those who do not condemn
Ukraine’s resistance to the Polish oppression. Furthermore, Poland now
says it may withhold Ukraine’s membership in the European Union.
only does the fracas create a rift between two allies who, in the
post-Soviet period, stand together against Russia’s determination to
reconstruct the concentration camp -- including satellites like Poland
-- that was formerly the Soviet Union. It weakens Ukraine, the only
country to wage military resistance against Russia’s territorial
incursions. Most dangerously to world order, the rift puts a NATO
member in conflict with a pro-Ukraine NATO position.
serves Putin’s overall strategy very nicely. He detests NATO and would
like nothing better than to undermine its resolve against his
aggression. He wants to shake confidence among democratic allies; and,
to weaken democratic institutions world-wide.
must be pleased with Poland and Snyder’s position. Casting Ukraine as
the aggressor -- on its own turf -- has been a long-standing
Russo-Soviet play. In recent years, such propaganda was a key tool in
annexing Crimea and waging Russia’s war of terror in Donbas: Ukraine is
a Nazi state denying Russians their rights! It’s fake but serves the
purpose of vilifying the victim while deflecting from Russia’s own
Poland has risen to Russia’s bait and opened up old wounds. It is most
unfortunate, therefore, that on this historic matter a scholar of
Snyder’s stature reinforces Russia’s position and exacerbates the
global tensions it’s creating.
be fair, Snyder sees the intellectual landmines. Towards the
end of the interview he advises that the interpretation of historic
events be left to historians rather than politicians. Good.
also admits that his views are not conclusive; new historians and the
emergence of new sources will lead to new understanding of events.
“Neither I, nor anyone else determines once and for all how things
were” he says.
However, the current situation is wrought with danger and needs wise
heads to calm the storms.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn,
formerly director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and
president of the consulting firm U*CAN Ukraine Canada Relations Inc.,
is a survivor of the Polish-Ukraine tensions of World War II. She
supports strong Polish-Ukraine relations.
This article in the Kyiv Post by Ms. Bashuk Hepburn on the
"Poland-Ukraine fracas" has prompted me to write out my own experiences
and views on the issue. It will be archived on my website at the
location indicated below.]
MoZeus/Will Zuzak Letters: | 25Feb2018 | Will Zuzak
The Ukrainian Independence Movement: 1900 - 2018
I was born in Canada in 1941, my involvement with the Ukrainian
Independence Movement dates back to the turn of the twentieth century
via my parents, who immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1927 (father 1902 -
1972) and 1930 (mother 1907 - 2005) from different regions of Western
Ukraine, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to WWI.
Shortly thereafter, it became part of the newly established state of
Poland, which resulted in friction between the overwhelmingly Ukrainian
population and the new Polish authorities.
My mother's oldest
half-brother (Petro, b. 1899?) ran away from home (Bereziv
villages 30 km east of Kolomyia) to work in "Prussia". (Presumably,
this German-populated region was annexed by Poland after WWII.) When
WWI broke out, he was dragooned into the German army to look after the
horses of officers in the German cavalry. After the armistice in 1918,
he returned home with a disabled arm. Ukrainian patriots
encouraged him to join the "Sichovi Striltsi" (Ukraine's fledgling
army), but, after having just been through 4 years of hell, he declined.
mother related that near the beginning of the war the Russian army
marched west through the Bereziv villages for six days -- only to be
decimated in a trap set by the Germans -- and retreated through the
same villages in six hours. For years thereafter, villagers would run
across skeletons entangled in barbed wire in the Carpathian highlands.
With no state of their own, Ukrainians dragooned into the Russian and
German armies were forced to kill their own kinsmen.
(from Stoyaniv, 60 km northeast of Lviv) was too young to participate
in the war, but could relate countless war tales as the armies seesawed
across the region. Circa 1920 he was obliged to train with the Polish
army as a sharpshooter and machinegunner -- hitting a horse-size moving
paper target with 97 of the 100 bullets allotted at a distance of 500
metres. In the mid-1920s, he became involved in the Ukrainian
Independence Movement resisting Polish discrimination against
Ukrainians. He was detained and beaten by the Polish police and
encouraged to immigrate to
Canada, if he wished to stay out of prison.
As a small boy, my first memories of Ukraine's tragic history were my
mother's tears, when she received a letter from Ukraine circa
1946 informing her that three of her brothers had been "killed by the
Communists". A couple of years later, my father's nephew (Stepan, b.
1923?) arrived at our farm from a DP camp in Germany. He had been
arrested by the Germans in the fall of 1941 on suspicion to belonging
to an OUN resistance group that had impudently declared Ukraine's
independence in Lviv on 30 June 1941 in the face of Hitler's virulent
opposition. He was imprisoned for 18 months, released and re-arrested
again to spend the rest of the war in a series of German concentration
camps. He participated in a so-called "death-march" as the Germans
retreated before the Red Army onslaught. In the meantime, his older
brother had been sent to the Siberian gulags for a period of 10 years.
In the 1980-90's, I became acquainted with an elderly gentleman (Pavlo
Humeniuk, 1903-2000) and his family, who immigrated to Montreal, Canada
during the 1930's. In his little book of memoirs, he recalls the
torture-murder of about 300 "Sichovi Striltsi" by Haller's Polish Army
in the summer/fall of 1917 in the vicinity of Vishnivchyk (50 km east
southeast of Lviv). In the 1990's, a memorial was built in their honour
in Vishnivchyk. Mr. Humeniuk's book also records numerous
anti-Ukrainian policies enforced by the Polish authorities.
So the Polish-Ukrainian struggle to establish an independent state
(often incorporating the ethnographic territory of the other side) was
initiated well before the Polish state was established in 1919 as Ms.
Bashuk Hepburn states in her Kyiv Post article concerning the
Polish-language interview of Timothy Snyder.
In my experience, their has been no animosity between the Polish and
Ukrainian communities in Canada. Indeed, Ukrainians have been lauding
the successes of the Polish economy since 1991 and urging Ukraine's
politicians to emulate some of the Polish policies.
When I was in Kharkiv, Ukraine as an election observer in March 2006, I
was pleasantly impressed with some Polish memorial plaques and flowers
to commemorate Polish victims of Communist repression. My views on the
vandalism and destruction of gravesites and monuments are
straightforward. No monument commemorating Polish victims in Ukraine or
Ukrainian victims in Poland should be built without consulting the
authorities and local inhabitants in the respective communities. Any
vandalism of gravesites is sacreligious and contributes to the
destruction of the souls of the perpetrators rather than causing
distress to the souls of the departed victims. Any commemoration by
politicians and foreign visitors must be done at the location where the
victims' souls were separated from their bodies, rather than in Kyiv or
Warsaw for political/imperialistic purposes. The souls of the departed
are more interested in the wellbeing of their surviving relatives and
offspring rather than seeking vengeance for their deaths.
In my view, the aims and operations of the Armia Krajowa (AK) in Poland
and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) were very similar during WWII.
The motto of the UPA was very simple: Establish an independent
Ukrainian state or die trying.
Will Zuzak; 2018.02.25