Poland and Russia involved in a spat over the Volyn Massacre

Cross with tablets of the names of Poles killed in completely destroyed Huta Pieniacka, in present-day Ukraine. Source: Stanisław i Andrzej Tomczakowie / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Poland and the Ukraine have enjoyed amicable relations for many years, but one controversy that refuses to go away concerns one of the many horrific events that plagued Poland during World War II.

The specific event at the heart of the matter is known as the Volyn Massacre in Poland, and the Volyn tragedy in the Ukraine.  This event, in which some 100,000 ethnic Polish people were brutally slain by Ukrainian nationalists between 1943 and 1944, has been a cause of division between these two nations since it occurred.   At the time of the slayings the Volyn region was part of Poland, though now it forms part of the Ukraine.  Revenge attacks were common, and some 20,000 Ukrainians died at the hands of Poles thus setting up a feud that has lasted for over 70 years.

The bloodbath was again brought into the news when the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, paid tribute to all the victims of this massacre at a recent memorial service held in Warsaw.

Then to add yet another wrinkle to this controversy, the Polish Defence Minister, Antoni Macierewicz, said in a television interview with the After 20 news program on the Polish television channel TVP, “But we should not be prevented from seeing that the real enemy, the one who used parts of the nationalist Ukrainian forces for this terrible crime of genocide, seems to be Russia.  There lays the root of this terrible crime.”

Macierewicz clearly indicated that he believed Russia was trying to foment trouble between Poland and the Ukraine by using the Volyn tragedy to cause a rift.  Both Poland and the Ukraine are extremely critical of the Kremlin, and it would be to Russia’s advantage if they were focused on each other.

Russia reacted strongly through social media to the interview.  Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook, “Is there no concern that by quietly allowing such chauvinistic statements, the Polish government is moving from Russophobia to inciting national hatred.” Ms. Zakharova, also sarcastically asked Macierewicz if “there are any historical events and natural disasters for which Russia is not the one to blame.”

Not only was Ms. Zakharova incensed at the Polish attitude, so to was the head of Russia’s upper House International Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, who also took to social media via Facebook to upbraid Macierewicz saying that he was “disgracefully betraying the history of his predecessors” by making such statements.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE