The Bieszczady

Border: Poland – Czechoslovakia (Hungary from April 1939)
At present: Ukraine

In the years 1944–1946, under the so-called republican treaties Poland and the USSR exchanged citizens, deporting the Polish population from the former territories of the Second Polish Republic occupied by the Soviets, and at the same time - at first voluntarily and then forcibly – casting away the Ukrainian population to the Soviet Union, including the Carpathian highlanders: Boykos and Lemkos. The deportations covered the area from Włodawa, located on the Bug River east of Lublin, to Sanok and the Bieszczady Mountains. During the operation, there were often rapes, robberies and even murders. Some Polish soldiers, especially those from Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, treated the action as an act of revenge for the persecution of local Poles by the Ukrainians. In total, almost half a million people had parted with their homeland, including over 250,000 who were forced to leave. The displaced persons were scattered throughout the territory of Soviet Ukraine, from Galicia and Volhynia, through the Odessa Oblast to the Donbass region.


Then came Operation Vistula, inspired by the Kremlin and organized in 1947 by the Polish communist authorities, as part of which about 140,000 Ukrainians from south-eastern Poland were resettled to the so-called Recovered Territories (former German land granted to Poland after the war). Finally, in 1951 there was a correction of borders enforced by the USSR. Poland gave Russia the eastern portion of the Lublin region called the Sokalszczyzna and in return it received a fragment of the Bieszczady around Ustrzyki Dolne. At the same time, about 30 thousand Boykos from the Bieszczady Mountains were deported to the Odessa, Donetsk, Kherson and Mikolajewski Oblasts. They were taken from mountain forests, rich in mushrooms, berries and fish - snatched away from one place and thrown into another, where they were not welcome. Still, their roots remained in the Bieszczady range. 


“In reality, this steppe land turned out to be extraordinary, but we associated it with an inhospitable desert, rather than a promised land. In the Bieszczady Mountains, we never knew hunger except in the worst time of war, and now it has become our everyday life. Fear, fear, fear. It is with fear that they pushed us around, bashed us into the Black Sea steppe. When a man fears another man, you can do anything to him,” says Marija from the village of Jeremijewka near Odessa. 

Marija Zajec from the village of Łubnia, inhabited by Boyko, in the Ukrainian Bieszczady Mountains.
Marija Zajec from the village of Łubnia, inhabited by Boyko, in the Ukrainian Bieszczady Mountains.

In 1946, she saw her neighbors being driven out of the village of Wołosate on the Polish side of the border.

Łubnia Village.
Łubnia Village.
Marija Zajec and her neighbor Anna Kofel.
Marija Zajec and her neighbor Anna Kofel.
The Ukrainian Bieszczady Mountains.
The Ukrainian Bieszczady Mountains.
Marija: “We had family there too”.
Marija: “We had family there too”.

“That summer, my aunt was traveling from Wołosate with her granddaughter Stefania Skubisz. She was peer. They took them as far as Stryj.”

Road through the Bieszczady Mountains.
Road through the Bieszczady Mountains.
Stefania Skubisz was expelled from Wołosate to Stryj near Lviv.
Stefania Skubisz was expelled from Wołosate to Stryj near Lviv.

Her beloved mountain Tarnica was her strongest memory from a childhood in Bieszczady.

She was able to visit her home village only after many years: “There was no trace of our cottage”.
She was able to visit her home village only after many years: “There was no trace of our cottage”.

“Only Tarnica was waiting for my return. It resisted being taken away. It’s eternal. After 70 years of separation, I finally set eyes on it. I regained my childhood.”

Grigorij Kadylak is a Lemko from a village near Polish Komancza.
Grigorij Kadylak is a Lemko from a village near Polish Komancza.

In 1945, he and his parents were deported as far as the Dnieper in eastern Ukraine. From there, they escaped to Lviv on foot, but they never managed to return to their home village.

Emilia Gwoździuk sings in Polish, Lemko and Ukrainian.
Emilia Gwoździuk sings in Polish, Lemko and Ukrainian.

In 1946, she and her family were deported from the Polish mountains to the vicinity of Lviv.

Steppe near Odessa.
Steppe near Odessa.
Carpathian highlanders, the Boykos, were deported in 1951 from the Polish Bieszczady to Odessa.
Carpathian highlanders, the Boykos, were deported in 1951 from the Polish Bieszczady to Odessa.
The grandchildren of the deportees tell stories of their grandparents.
The grandchildren of the deportees tell stories of their grandparents.
“I still dream of a hut under the mountains. A thorny road led from the San to the Black Sea.“
“I still dream of a hut under the mountains. A thorny road led from the San to the Black Sea.“

Inscription on the monument in the village of Jeremiyevka near Odessa.

One of the women deported as a child to Odessa region.
One of the women deported as a child to Odessa region.
The exiled Boyko family ended up in huts without doors and windows.
The exiled Boyko family ended up in huts without doors and windows.
Maria: “In the Bieszczady Mountains, we never knew hunger outside the war."
Maria: “In the Bieszczady Mountains, we never knew hunger outside the war."

"Now it has become our everyday life.”

Mud hut.
Mud hut.
The village of Novoukrainka in the steppe near Odessa.
The village of Novoukrainka in the steppe near Odessa.
Siblings Emilia and Jarosław Jasłyk: “The bird is always drawn to its nest.
Siblings Emilia and Jarosław Jasłyk: “The bird is always drawn to its nest.

“Our nation fell on its knees, wept, beat its head on the ground, cursed Stalin, but despite the mustachioed bloodsucker, it lived."

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