April 2012 is the 65th anniversary of the Operation Vistula – a tragic event in the life of Lemkos, a Ukrainian ethnic minority in Poland. In 1947 Lemkos were forcibly evicted from their native land by the armed forces of the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia. As early as 1944, the governments of the Ukrainian SSR and Poland signed an agreement on the mutual exchange of people who lived in the border areas. This was the first deportation of Ukrainians from their original Ukrainian lands, which at that time belonged to Poland. In 1944-1946, 482,000 people were resettled in Ukraine.
When on March 28, 1947, the Deputy Minister of Defense of Poland General Karol Sverchevsky died in a battle with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army unit, a decision was taken in Warsaw to completely remove the Ukrainian population in the newly created former German lands of Wroclaw, Gdansk, Olsztyn, Poznan and Szczecin voivodeships.
On April 28, 1947, units of the Security Service and six Polish divisions surrounded the Ukrainian villages. The troops of the NKVD and Czechoslovakia blocked the borders of Poland. The enemy-minded Polish population went to plunder Ukrainian settlements, killing children and women. In Verkhovyna village 194 people were killed, including 65 children, 460 Ukrainians were killed in the village of Pavlokoma.
The black figure of the action was its Soviet leader Ivan Serov – Commissar of State Security, deputy commander of the First Belarusian Front. He was born in the village of Afimsky in the north of Russia, and in 1939 he began his service in the NKVD and immediately made a rapid career – already that year he was appointed People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR. It was he who in 1939-1940 deported to Siberia some of the population of Western Ukraine and in 1944 he removed from their native lands Chechens, Ingush, Germans, Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, and then Ukrainians from Poland.
The tragic events of the Operation Vistula are remembered not only by Lemkos but also by all Ukrainians living abroad. In the USSR, they were martyred. Little was known about the deportation of Lemkos in the wider world. Therefore, the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (OOL) in America and the Lemko Research Foundation (FDL) decided to prepare and publish in English a collection of articles entitled “Zakerzonnia: Ethnic Cleansing Of The Ukrainian Minority In Poland. 1944—1947”. This book became the first English edition about the ethnic cleansing of the Lemkos in 1944-1947. The book is devoted to the 65th anniversary of the Operation Vistula. It was produced and edited by Taras Hunczak, a Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University (New Jersey).
On March 25, a presentation of the book took place at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey in Vippan. The event was opened by Zenon Halkovych, head of the OOL Regional Board, who thankfully noted the great and complicated work of Mr. Hunczak in the realization of an important project to disseminate information on the tragedy of the Lemkos in American society and in the world.
The book contains articles by Taras Hunczak, Roman Drozd, Timothy Snyder, Yevgeny Misil, Diana Govansky-Reilly and Mykola Duplyak. The translation into English was performed by Yevhen Ladna, Volodymyr Hrytsyk and Taras Schmayger. Tamar Cornelison provided language consultation and Maria Duplyak published the issue at her printing company.
The book contains a list of geographical names in Ukrainian and Polish, a map of Poland with the indication of Lemko lands, a selection of documents for the Operation Vistula, as well as pictures of surviving Lemko churches. At the presentation, Dr. Hunczak noted that the new book is a document about the life of a part of the Ukrainian people and emphasized that Lemkos, unlike many national minorities, did not assimilate and did not lose their Ukrainian identity. He called this phenomenon a real miracle, which happened due to the fact that Ukraine always have lived in the souls of Lemkos. He also noted the great help in implementing the project of Nicholas Dormohval and Maria Duplyak.
An exciting event was the performance of the solo-pandora Alla Kutsevich, who played the poetry musical composition of folk dumas, as well as many Lemko songs. Taras Hunczak signed the books purchased by the participants of the presentation. For their viewing also was shown the documentary “Fire and weapons” – about activity of Ukrainian Insurgent Army on Zakerzonnia. Stefan Howansky, head of the FDL, thanked all the participants and guests. He announced at the end of the meeting during which the spring issue of the “Lemkivshchyna” magazine was made available that the issue was completely dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Operation Vistula.
About the book: Lemko Research Foundation “Zakerzonnia. Ethnic Cleansing Of The Ukrainian Minority In Poland. 1944—1947”. Edited and compiled by Dr. Taras Hunczak. – Computeprint: Clifton-New Jersey, 2012. – 288 p.