Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Most probably every nation has a part of history that one can be ashamed of. Although the historians may assess some events in different ways, as a result of the past relations, there are people involved whose life has been destroyed and badly influenced by hatred within their homeland. The Vistula action was carried out after the II World War and included deportation of Ukrainian (also Lemko and Boyko) population from newly created border’s of post-war Poland. Although the end of WW II gave Poland independence, its multicultural population would still fight over the ownership of parts of the country. Both, the Poles and Ukrainians, started to defend the territories in which they had lived for years.
The main pretext of the operation was the need to suppress the Ukrainian Insurgent Army that was active in southeastern Poland, murdering Polish civilians. Direct event, that started the operation, was the murder of General Karol Swierczewski in an ambush. However, the plans to start the action of resettling Ukrainian citizens (as well as mixed Ukrainian-Polish families) go back at least to early 1947 (before the death of Switalski). As the Vistula Operation was carried out in parts of Poland where Ukrainian Nationalist have not been active before, and was aimed at civilians, it is described as ethnic cleansing.
The first stage of the action included making the list of citizens, of Ukrainian origin, that would be subject to resettling. The population tried to save themselves from deportation by achieving false documents, such as Roman-Catholic christening certificates, as population of Greek Catholic church or Orthodox confession was automatically seen as Russian. The resettling embraced about 150 thousand population of Ukrainians, Lemkos and Boykos – still remaining within the borders of Poland after repatriation of Ukrainians from Poland to Soviet Ukraine that took place between 1944 and 1946. The events around the deportation were very often violent. The resettled people had not been left much time to take their belongings, very often only couple of hours, and they were limited only to the most needed ones. The conditions of transport were very bad, as the deportees were brutally forced to enter crowded boxcars with irregular supplies of food, what caused death of some of them while transport. Some of members of intelligentsia and clergy were placed in labour camp in Jaworzno.
As during 1944-46, based on agreement between Poland and the Soviet Ukraine, an exchange of citizens took place, part of Ukrainian population of Poland has already left the lands of post-war Poland (while the Poles living within the new borders of the Soviet Ukraine would arrive to the territories Republic Poland). During the Vistula Operation the remaining minorities of Ukrainians (Lemkos, Boykos and of Rusyn origin) living in southeastern part of the country, would be relocated to western and northern lands where they would not constitute more than 10% of population of a given area. Polish government managed to depopulate some of terrains that were the place of activity of Ukrainian Nationalists, depriving them from human and other resources. However, the operation was a real tragedy to indigenous population of the affected terrains. Some of Lemkos managed to return to their homes 10 years after the action of resettling had taken place. Although the Vistula Operation was planned to be followed by settling the ethnic Poles in southeastern terrains of the country, the number of Polish citizens who were relocated there was much smaller than perceived before the action. After over 60 years from the operation, when visiting southeastern Poland, one can still feel the difference in number of people living there in comparison with other parts of the country.