On Sunday, July 11, 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), often with the help of local Ukrainians, surrounded and attacked 99 Polish villages in Volhynia, an area of what had been eastern Poland and is now modern-day Ukraine. On “Bloody Sunday,” it is estimated that about 8,000 Polish men, women, and children were massacred simply because they were Polish and for no other reason.
But this was only one day in what was about three years of genocide, the ruthless attempt to exterminate Poles who lived in eastern Galacia and Volhynia, an area of mixed Polish and Ukrainian nationalities. It was not UPA alone that did this, but they worked in concert with the OUN-B (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera faction) and for three years worked to exterminate Poles. Some estimate that as many and 100,000 Poles were murdered during this time, maybe even more.
One of those murdered was the Antoni Cymbal, the brother of my great-grandfather. His crime? He was Polish.
There is a lot of historical background and reason for the tension in the area, but for a long time, Poles and Ukrainians got along just fine. Yet some Ukrainians wanted their own separate country and were not happy being a part of Poland after World War I. But not everyone was crazy, and not every Ukrainian was a part of UPA or OUN-B. That was a minority, but a very powerful minority who had the blessings of first the Soviets, then the Germans, and later again the Soviets.
Did you ever hear about this in the history books you read in school. Do you even know this happened, this genocide, the murder of perhaps 100,000 or more people, simply because they were Polish? I bet not. Yet, the Volhynian Massacre is fact, a part of history. And during this period of ethnic cleansing, there are also many stories of the brave Ukrainians who helped their Polish friends and neighbors–and some of those Ukrainans paid with their lives.
It is a sad chapter in history and a story that is not often told. I learned about it from my cousin, Alicja. Antoni Cymbal was her great-grandfather. We visited his grave in Faschivka, Ukraine, in 2011 and saw the home where he was raised and the church he attended. And we visited with our other family members who are Ukrainian. Antoni’s daughter married a Ukrainian and they live there to this day. But after the war, the Soviets resettled all Polish people out of Ukraine and today, Ukraine is indeed nearly 100% Ukrainian.
You can read a lot more about the murder of these Poles and the Volhynian Massacre here: http://www.volhyniamassacre.eu/. And especially, take a look at this article for a great summary. But keep in mind, this was a crime perpetrated by a few, supported by others, but also not supported by many righteous Ukrainians. Still, a sad era of history and a story that is seldom told. But now you know.