Nestled along streams flowing into the Prut River in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains lie the four inter-connected Bereziv villages -- Nyzhni, Seredni, Verkhni and Banya Bereziv -- with some 6000 inhabitants. Following my stint as a Canadian Observer for the 26Mar2006 parliamentary elections in Ukraine -- 20 of us were sent to Kharkiv, where we were joined by 15 university student "journalists from the press" -- I had occasion to visit the village, where my recently-deceased mother was born some 99 years ago as Anna Genyk.
While we were window shopping in Kolomyia (30 km east of Bereziv), my first cousin, Lida Genyk, spotted and insisted on buying me the book, Spalakh, since she had been personally acquainted with its recently-deceased author and radiologist, Michailo Tomaschuk, through her work with the emergency medical services in Kolomyia.
The book is a fascinating collection of inter-connected chapters highlighting the various aspects of the Western Ukrainian struggle for independence from the 1920s through the 1950s with particular emphasis on the Kolomyia - Bereziv regions. To me, the book was doubly intriguing, since I had just recently been exposed in Kharkiv to the Eastern Ukrainian view that the UPA freedom fighters -- and Western Ukrainians, in general -- were "banderovtsi", bandits, traitors and murderers. Even exhortations by President Viktor Yushchenko, that the UPA be recognized as fighters for Ukrainian independence and be given equal status to veterans of the Red Army, are rejected by the Communist Party and the Party of Regions factions in the Verhovna Rada (Ukraine's Parliament).
Rather than try to summarize each chapter, I will extract excerpts, insert them into the appropriate chronological time period and make editorial comments. Translations are in quotation marks; personal observations or inserts are in square brackets.
The Polish occupation (1919.08.28 - 1939.09.01):
Although the armed struggle for an independent Ukrainian state in 1917-1921 ultimately failed, it served as an impetus for future Ukrainian efforts. Western Ukraine was now under Polish occupation, the policy of which was to "Polonize" the inhabitants and suppress any nationalistic aspirations. The Ukrainians, on the other hand, did everything possible to maintain their language and culture -- and to promote the idea of an independent Ukraine. From the remnants of old military organizations, Ukrainians formed a new secret military organization UVO, which evolved into the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) under the leadership of Evhen Konovalets in early February 1929. [p106]
In August - September, 1931, there was a court case in Lviv against seven activists from Kolomyia for promoting an independent Ukrainian state. The Polish authorities, of course, did everything possible to suppress such activity. There were a lot of arrests and "pacification" of the countryside. [p110] After the assassination by Ukrainian nationalists of the Polish Minister of Internal Affairs, Bronislaw Pieracki, for his anti-Ukrainian policies, there were mass arrests in the Bereziv region in June 1934.
The struggle continued. In October 1938, Roman Maleschuk organized a demonstration in Lviv of 20,000 against Polish repressions. [p215] However, the situation drastically changed for the worse with the advent of World War II on Sep. 01, 1939.
The first Soviet occupation (1939.09.19 - 1941.06.22):
The Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, signed on 23Aug1939 contained a secret protocol to partition Poland. Germany attacked 01Sep1939 and Stalin "liberated" Western Ukraine on 17Sep1939. The Polish Army trying to escape to Romania was intercepted by the Red Army and about 130,000 were sent to Siberia. Some 21,900 officers and generals were eventually executed at various ends of the empire. [p125]
[The Katyn Forest Massacre, located in Belarus, is well known. Less well known is the "Memorial to the Victims of Totalitarianism, 1938-1941" located in the northern outskirts of Kharkiv along the road to Moscow. It is the burial grounds of some 10,000 people shot by the NKVD in Kharkiv, including 4,300 Polish officers. The names of the victims -- barely discernable because of rust -- are inscribed on two huge iron walls, which seemed to be deliberately neglected. On the other hand, I was pleasantly impressed with several smaller monuments with inscriptions in Polish and with colourful wreaths from the "PREZYDENT RZECZYPOSPOLITEJ POLSKIE". Also somewhere in Kharkiv, you will find a plaque of names on a building "Slovo" built in 1928 by Stalin for the writers of Ukraine. By 1938 they were all dead.]
"The Lumpen proletariat, mostly Jewish poor with red bands on their arms greeted the new occupiers with flowers and from the first days started informing not only on Ukrainians and Poles, but on their own Polonized wealthy co-religionists, who the new regime now called bourgousie." [p126] Arrests started almost immediately. After the NKVD "cleansed" the Poles, they went after the Ukrainians. [p127] There were mass arrests, executions and deportations to Siberia. [p115]
[In the early 1990s, the Montreal Gazette reported on a mass grave discovered south of the Bereziv villages, but suddenly lost interest when the victims turned out to be Ukrainian.]
In 1941, there were about 800 OUN members in the Kolomyia region. [p214] In late April 1941, several OUN leaders reported on the second meeting of OUN in Cracow, which elected Stepan Bandera as leader. They predicted war. German bombardment of Kolomyia started on 22Jun1941.
[As the Bolsheviks retreated before the German onslaught, the NKVD massacred all the prisoners they had arrested. When I was in Manchester, England in 1970, a Ukrainian refugee described how he had personally counted 137 horribly mutilated victims in one prison.]
The German occupation (1941.06.22 - 1944.03.28, 1944.08.00):
After the flight of the Bolsheviks and arrival of the Hungarian army, the OUN leadership committed a fatal mistake in that all OUN members came out into the open, legalized themselves and started rebuilding their lives. They massively celebrated the proclamation of Ukrainian Independence on 30Jun1941. [p79] They were shocked, when Stepan Bandera and the OUN leadership were arrested and sent to German concentration camps.
Sometimes in July 1941, Ivan Klymiw, "Legenda", (1915-1942) visited the renewed OUN officer training school in Kolomyia and warned its members that the Hungarians would soon be replaced by the German Gestapo, which was completely opposed to Ukrainian independence. [p80]
The final crash of illusions came with the 01Aug1941 absorption of Halychyna into the General-Gouvernment by the German regime. On 14Aug1941, the Germans arrested the OUN leadership and 200 of its members in Stanislav (now Ivano-Frankivsk). Surprisingly, arrests in Kolomyia did not start until 05Feb1942 with the arrests of 20 men and 8 girls. [p82]
The disillusionment and bitterness of the Ukrainians is illustrated in the following two quotes:
"After the proclamation of the Ukrainian nation, which occurred in Lviv on 30Jun1941, massive repressions started against the Ukrainian intelligentsia -- mainly members of OUN. In Kolomyia most of the arrests occurred 05Feb1942, during which over 20 men and 8 young women were arrested. Eventually, to them was also added Roman Selski. After inhuman torture, almost all of them, including Roman, together with 52 other arrested people, were executed 27Nov1942 in a field near the village of Yahilnitsi, not far from the town of Chortkiv (Ternopil oblast)." [p118]
"After the explosion of the German-Bolshevik war, our territory right up to the Dniester River was occupied by the Hungarian Army. The military leadership -- the German and particularly the Hungarian -- at the beginning of the war supported the concept of national independence of Ukraine, and even to very large regions to the East -- up to the Volga. That promoted optimism. Unfortunately, not for long. Soon the insane politics of Hitler negated not only all the hopes of Ukrainians, but the proposals of the more intelligent circles in Germany." [p149]
The German occupation had turned into a nightmare very quickly. They demanded half of all food products. Young people -- boys and girls -- were rounded up and sent to Germany to work as Ost Arbeiter. There were major repressions and executions of Ukrainians and Jews. [p23]
The Ukrainian response was to create the UPA -- the Ukrainian Insurgent (Partisan) Army -- to fight the German occupation and try to protect the Ukrainian people. It was a very uneven fight -- German military might against untrained and poorly equipped youth.
[In mid-April 2006, as I was accompanying my cousin along with other forestry personnel in the foothills of the Carpathians near Kosmach, the conversation turned to the UPA training camp of the "Chorni Chorty" -- Black Devils -- that had been located in the region. Once I expressed interest, they insisted in guiding me to the location. Five of us headed up the forested mountain -- the snow was still knee-deep in places -- and were there within an hour. Someone had built a little chapel (obviously since 1991), at which we lit candles and paid our respects. The outline of the foundation of the building was still there and the stone fireplace within. Another fireplace outside the building had a large tree growing from it. There were three flat areas indicating the location of supply buildings. The parade ground was overgrown with trees.
In late 1943, the Germans discovered its location and surrounded the area. The UPA personnel broke up into five groups and managed to break out of the encirclement with minimal loss of life. However, the camp was burnt to the ground.]
The second Soviet occupation (1944.03.28 (Kolomyia), 1944.08.00 (Bereziv) - 1991.08.24):
The Red Army returned to Kolomyia on 1944.03.28. The Soviets conscripted about half the men from 18 to 55 and sent them as human minesweepers and cannon fodder against the Germans. [p24] In August 1944, the front moved west (towards the Bereziv villages). [p26]
Most of the material in the book, Spalakh, relates to this period. For example, on 14Jun1945 the KGB arrested 80 women in Debeslavtsi and tortured them to reveal UPA personnel. [p48] Similar atrocities in other locations on 21Dec1945, 31Jan1946, etc. are described.
The mothers of my first cousins, Yaroslav/Maria Genyk, are both still alive. They recounted incredible stories during my visit. The fate of Hanna Skilski's family (Maria's mother) is described as follows:
"In the Bereziv villages, as in many other pre-Carpathian villages, there were many families from which almost all adults took the path of battle against both the brown, as well as the red occupiers. And not always were these the children of educated and intelligent parents. For example, in Verkhni Bereziv ordinary village farmers Maria and Ivan Skilski raised four sons -- patriots of Ukraine, from which Petro -- pseudonym "Handzha", Vasyl "Hrim", Pavlo "Iskra" -- known partisans, who eventually laid their heads against the uneven battle with the Muscovite occupier, and the fourth, Bohdan died from a commissar bullet in the Soviet army somewhere in the Voronezky oblast. Their sister Hanna was deported to Siberia in 1947. Twice she escaped from the Omsk oblast, but was caught and sentenced to three years of prison." [p161]
By 1953, in the 10-year battle with Bolshevism, the Bereziv villages had sacrificed over 250 of their better daughters and sons to the grave, some 200 to the concentration camps, and over 80 families to the frozen Siberian tundra. [p220]
The following story of one remarkable woman encapsulates the tragedy of the Ukrainian people.
Oleksandra (Tomych) Payevska, "Orysia" (1908.01.17 - 1953.04.08):
Oleksandra Tomych was born to Rev. Mykola/Maria Tomych in Nyzhni Bereziv on 17Jan1908. Her father died of tuberculosis on 26Feb1915. After finishing teaching school in Kolomyia in 1926, Polish policy forced her to travel to Volyn to get a teaching job. There she married Denis Payevsky, substantially older from Eastern Ukraine, whose parents had been shot by the Bolsheviks and whose sister starved to death in 1933. Two sons were born --Yurij in 1936 and Andrij on 29Jun1940. [p74]
After the outbreak of WWII on 01Sep1939 and Muscovite "liberation", Denis swam across the Buh River only to end up in a German concentration camp, returned in 1944, was arrested by the NKVD on 28Feb1946, sentenced 03Jun1946 to 10 years, died 03Aug1952, rehabilitated 24Jun1993 [p86]
In March 1940, Olexandra Payevska learned that she was listed amongst people to be deported to Siberia and escaped to her mother in Brustur. [p75]
"Lesia [Oleksandra] Tomych entered OUN sometimes before the war. Because of the severe rules of conspiracy, the details of her underground work from that time are, unfortunately, little known. Certain only is that under Polish occupation, under the first Soviet occupation and under the Germans, she was in the front line of fire -- in the first rows of fighters for freedom." [p84]
By 1947, Oleksandra Payevska, pseudonym "Orysia", had become the courier for the UPA leadership of the Bukovina and Kolomyia regions. The isolated schoolhouse in Babyn, where she taught and lived with her two boys and mother, served as an UPA hideout. In April 1950, UPA counter-intelligence learned that her identity had been discovered and that the Chekists were preparing for her arrest. On the May 1st holiday weekend, she gave away her youngest son, Andrij, to strangers and with her elder 14-year-old son, Yurij, disappeared into the UPA underground. [p89]
In a letter written in July 1950 and delivered via the underground, she described her new illegal status deep within the forests and streams of the Carpathian Mountains as "Sitting here, where the devil says good night and making use of the ice water and sun". To her relatives, she wrote:
"Dearest Mother, Father, Uncle and son:
It is difficult. But there must be such people as us. You may ask why I, in particular, took this path? Once more I repeat: I chose this path long ago. Since last fall, I know nothing about you. I also know nothing about Yurij ["Zhuk"], but he is probably alive. As for little Andriko, it does not matter to me how you "Christianed" him. If possible, let him study. If someone would like to adopt him, then give him away. I will not reclaim him. Because it is most likely that you will never again see either me or Yurko. These are not just words in the wind, or some sort of dark thoughts, but the reality -- and please take this into account in your life plans. Be healthy and do not feel sorry for me."
And to her 10-year-old son, Andrij, she continued:
"Son, be polite and obedient, pray for Yurko. Remember, that the most important thing in life is study -- knowledge. Therefore use every minute to learn something. Learn farming, learn to cook, learn to sew -- it will be useful in life. Read! Watch your health, because in a healthy body is a healthy soul. If you remain with Grandmother, then take care of her, be good to her and God will not abandon you. And know that those of my friends who remain alive will be interested in you. Because I, probably, will not return. Although hope supports us all. Maybe we will yet see each other." [p91]
But it was not to be. Because of the work of a super-traitor, Roman Tuchak, "Kirov", on 25Jun1952 a large number of UPA members were either killed or captured by the NKVD. Among the captured were Olexandra Payevska, "Orysia", and her son Yurij Payevsky, "Zhuk". They were imprisoned and questioned under torture for seven months in Stanislav. On 21Jan1953 a military court sentenced "Orysia" to be shot; "Zhuk" was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. Thus, mother and son saw, but were not allowed to speak to each other, one last time. On 08Apr1953, Olexandra Payevska, along with some 60 other UPA members, was shot -- burial place unknown. [p97]
The archives of the SBU list Yurij Payevsky as being born in 1936, sentenced to 25 years on 21Jan1953, released in 1956, rehabilitated on 13Oct1993. [p100]
After Ukrainian independence in 1991, Roman Tuchak, "Kirov", started writing his falsified "Memoirs". But Yurij Payevsky found his KGB file outlining his traitorous work, confronted and tape-recorded the conversation with Mr. Tuchak and forbid him to publish his lies. [p104]
The spirit of "Orysia" from Nyzhni Bereziv reflects the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of her compatriots, who fought for freedom from the Polish, German and Soviet occupations -- and for an independent Ukraine. I would suggest that every deputy in the Verkhovna Rada -- including those from the Party of Regions and the Communist Party -- has a duty to recognize her and the UPA as true Ukrainian patriots. Otherwise, the deputies themselves could be labeled as "enemies of the Ukrainian people".
[As you wander through the Bereziv villages, their cemeteries and the surrounding hills, you will come across chapels, monuments and crosses commemorating the sacrifices of the UPA partisans. The original wooden church in Verkhni Bereziv was burnt to the ground in the fall of 1944 by an errant Hungarian artillery shell aimed at the Red Army entrenched in the village. Its reconstruction (of brick) was only completed in 1991. On 16Apr2006 (Palm Sunday according to the Julian calendar), I attended "Sluzhba Bozha" at that church with the women standing on the left and the men on the right (as had been the practice in my youth in Canada). And as the choir sang "Stradaljna Maty" , where the Virgin Mary is asking for what crime her son Jesus is being crucified, I could not help wondering how many mothers were thinking about their own brothers, sisters and husbands, who had perished so many years ago.]
By Michailo Tomaschuk (1938.12.12 - 2003.11.20)
Spalakh; Kolomyia, 2004, 352 pages; and
Berezovy in the History of Hutsulschyna; Kolomyia, 1997, 248 pages; ISBN 966-550-048-1.
By Michailo Andrusiak (b. 1955)
Braty Hromu (Brothers of the Storm); Kolomyia, 2005, 832 pages; ISBN 966-550-139-9; and
Braty Vohnju (Brothers of the Fire); Kolomyia, 2004, 896 pages; ISBN 966-550-206-9.
A condensed version of this review has been published in the Ukrainian News, May 31 - June 13, 2006, No. 11 and is available at
Will Zuzak; 2006.05.29