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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, there 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