Border: Poland – the USSR
At present: Ukraine
The picturesque water gap of the Sluch river, which is considered to be the gate of the Volhynian Polesie, has earned the name of Nadsluchchya Switzerland in the interwar period. To the north there stretch vast areas of forests and swamps, and to the south, gentle hills and ravines of the Volhynian Upland. Mrs. Janina Dąbrowska from the village of Siwki is 90 years old and she speaks beautiful Polish to this day. She remembers the times when soldiers of the Border Protection Corps were stationed in the nearby Lewacze. The old woman has miraculously survived what followed after September of 1939 – terror of the Germans, Russians and Ukrainian nationalists; today she is one of the last Polish inhabitants of these areas.
As a result of mass murders carried out by Ukrainian nationalists associated with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (the so-called “Banderites”) with the support of part of the local Ukrainian population, 60,000 people died in Volhynia. An analogous ethnic cleansing in Eastern Małopolska, that is, in the provinces of Tarnopol, Lviv and Stanisławów, resulted in the death of at least 25 thousand people, and in the Lubelskie and Polesie voivodeships there died from 10 to 20 thousand. In total, the systematic pogroms in 1943–1944 led to the death of about 100,000 Poles, as well as righteous Ukrainians who had saved their Polish neighbors or refused to participate in the murders.
As mentioned by Mrs. Sofija, a Ukrainian from the village of Tesiw: “We too were paid a visit by the Banderites one night. They said to my brother: «Come now, you’ll take a walk with us ». He looked at them and replied that they should leave him alone because he wasn’t intending to murder anybody. They sized him up, it was a horrific moment of terror. But they let it go, they left us alone and went alone. There were several Polish families living in our village. They were good people, we helped each other out. They killed them for nothing. Just like the parents of my husband.”
And yet, Aleksander and Wiktoria Radica from Zdołbunów prove that, despite the tragic history in Volhynia, reconciliation is possible. The couple runs a scout troop “Volhyn” that refers to pre-war traditions. Most scouts have mixed roots, but all must speak at least two languages.
“This scout troops refers to the tradition of cooperation between our nations. There is no shortage of such past examples, but it takes some time to find them.” In one breath, Alexander mentions the figures and events proving that Polish-Ukrainian alliances were possible and brought quantifiable outcomes. From the Grand Hetman of Lithuania Konstanty Ostrogski, who defeated the Muscovites at Orsza at the beginning of the 16th century, to the leader of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, Symon Petlura and his alliance with Józef Piłsudski against the Bolsheviks in 1920.
During the war she survived German pacifications, murders committed by Ukrainian nationalists, so-called “Banderites” and the intrusion of the Soviets.
It was attended in the 19th century by one of the Polish national poets Juliusz Słowacki.
The gorge of the Sluch River separates the Volhynia Upland from the marshes of Volhynian Polesie.
"They killed Poles and they killed one another. They achieved nothing and only shed innocent blood. In the end, the Russians scattered them to the four winds”.
“The deeper in the swamps, the safer. Only wild nature brings relief ".
In 1944, it was the site of one of the largest battles between the UPA and the Soviets. However, there is no information about a Polish village existing here until 1943, or about the fact that it was massacred by Ukrainian nationalists.
Olga is a Russian who has always lived in Ostrog, which was once a Polish-Soviet border. She remembers with sadness the times when Volhynia was home to many different nations.
“In 1941, the village administrator warned everyone that the Germans would burn down our village. He was a Pole, but he did not distinguish whether someone was from a Polish or Ukrainian mother”.
During our journey, we managed to find traces of her family history in Volhynia.
In one of such bunkers, Second Lieutenant Jan Bołbot and his entire unit died after a heroic hours-long battle encircled by the Soviets.
In Soviet Ukraine, she survived a genocide, induced artificially by Stalin in the 1930s. The Great Famine that claimed millions of lives.
In front of the monument dedicated to the battle with the Russians for Polish independence at Kostiuchnówka.