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MoZeus/Will Zuzak Letters: | 25Feb2018 | Will Zuzak

The Ukrainian Independence Movement: 1900 - 2018

Although 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.

My 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.

My father (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