NEW YORK – This year marks the 70th year since the ethnic cleansing of Ukrainian Lemko lands known as Akcja Wisla, as well as the 75th year since the founding of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), and the 70th year since UPA executed its final directive – its “Great Raid” – to spread documentary source material throughout the nations of Western Europe about Ukraine’s heroic struggle for independence.
On Friday, October 13, the special Ukrainian National Committee organized by Ukrainian American representative organizations to commemorate these three anniversaries presented a special lecture at the Ukrainian National Home in New York City. One of a series of anniversary events, this lecture, titled “Ukrainian Victims of the 20th Century,” was a special presentation co-produced by the Ukrainian Free University Foundation.
Prior to any speeches or academic presentations, the audience witnessed a procession of colors presented by members of the Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA) and Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization. Once the scouts had arranged themselves on the raised podium at the front of the hall, the evening’s moderator, Askold Lozynskyj, invited Father Emilian Dorosh, OSBM, administrator of the neighboring St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church, to lead an invocation and intone the singing of the requiem chant, “Vichnaya Pamiat.” Following the prayers, Andrij Dobriansky led the room in the singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The ceremonial opening was concluded with a recitation of the UPA oath by Taras Kulynych, grandson of an UPA veteran, Yaroslav Kitsiuk.
First to speak was Askold Lozynskyj, former president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and the Ukrainian World Congress, who focused the evening’s attention on the crime of genocide. As established by Dr. Raphael Lemkin, the coordinated actions of a genocide, aimed “at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups,” was clearly seen by Lemkin in three horrors of the early 20th century: the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-1933 and the Jewish Holocaust of 1939-1945.
Citing the noted historian Norman Davies, who refers to Ukrainians as the people who suffered the most in the 20th century, Mr. Lozynskyj laid out a series of destructive actions indicative of genocide inflicted upon the Ukrainian nation: targeted arrests, expulsions, executions of Ukrainian intellectual and political leaders, persecution and virtual destruction of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Churches, and the many mass resettlements and ethnic cleansing of lands historically settled by the Ukrainian people.
Mr. Lozynskyj cited the ethnic cleansing of the Ukrainian Lemko homeland as another example of genocide against the Ukrainian nation. Having suffered so many of these injustices over just a few decades, according to Mr. Lozynskyj, the remarkable level of civic organization displayed by resettled Ukrainians often shocked non-Ukrainians, many of whom were intimidated at the variety of civic and religious organizations quickly established by displaced Ukrainians, which enabled them to maintain their national identity even in the midst of a poorly resourced wartime refugee camp.
Following his opening remarks, Mr. Lozynskyj asked the evening’s three presenters to the dais: Zenia Kowalchyn Brozyna, president of the Society of Veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; Mark Howansky, president of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivschyna; and the keynote speaker of the evening, Prof. Volodymyr Serhiychuk, director of the Center of Ukrainian Studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.
Ms. Brozyna, chair of the special Ukrainian national committee marking these historic anniversaries, addressed the attendees with personal stories passed on to her by her father, UPA veteran Mykhailo Kowalchyn. In his recollections to her, he would emphasize the period of 1942-1945, recalling the particular wartime hardships he and his fellow warriors endured. Notably, Ms. Brozyna mentioned that members of UPA were aware of the tragic fate suffered by the Crimean Tatars, who had been deported en masse from their homeland by Stalin at the close of the war. Mr. Brozyna and his brethren were determined not to suffer the same fate as the Crimean Tatars.
Concluding her remarks, Ms. Brozyna reminded those in attendance that there is an active, ongoing battle on Ukraine’s territory, with casualties incurred almost daily. For those with an understanding of the hardship endured 70 years ago, the return of Moscow’s war cannons to Ukrainian territory signals yet another fight for the liberation of the Ukrainian homeland.
Mr. Lozynskyj introduced Prof. Serhiychuk. noting that, since the fall of the Soviet Union, he has combed through the declassified archives in Ukraine, which affords more access to Soviet-era archives than any of the lands formerly controlled by the USSR.
Prof. Serhiychuk began his lecture by citing the documented population losses in Ukrainian ethnographic territories, including the northern lands of Berestia which lost nearly a million Ukrainians in the early 20th century, in addition to the over 750,000 who disappeared from the Transdniester region, the almost complete liquidation of Ukrainian peoples in the Lemko lands, Bukovyna and others.
While the majority of Ukrainian losses in the 20th century are attributable to Stalin’s Holodomor, the professor cautioned that the totality of losses will never be known, as there were no demographers actively monitoring population losses on the ground.
Prior to the known atrocities of the Holodomor and Akcja Wisla, targeted removal of Ukrainians is recorded to have occurred in Halychyna as early as 1914, when over 3,000 of the area’s intelligentsia – teachers, directors of institutions, lawyers, diplomats, and Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky – were extricated along with 20,000 Ukrainians from the surrounding countryside. According to information in the archives studied by Prof. Serhiychuk, most of this population ended up not returning to their homelands, even after the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires at the conclusion of the first world war.
When tabulating the losses incurred during the Holodomor, Prof. Serhiychuk noted with concern that many contemporary scholars undercount the drastic decline in expected births both during the Holodomor and in the years immediately following. He said he remains convinced that the established number of 7 million to10 million losses during the Holodomor would be borne out by future historians.
The final speaker of the evening was Mr. Howansky, who repeated the call of the worldwide Lemko diaspora for the international recognition of Akcja Wisla as a genocide. Referring to both his family history and Lemko oral histories, Mr. Howansky explained that the early living conditions of resettled Lemkos rivaled the indignities found in Nazi prison camps. Over the course of 70 years, the Lemko people have maintained their distinct identity despite their brutal and senseless expulsion.
Following the three presentations, several attendees stepped up to the microphone to ask questions of the panelists. There was a discussion about the historical population of the Donbas, often referred to as the “Russian-speaking” area of Ukraine. Again citing the archives, Prof. Serhiychuk described the population of Ukraine’s Donbas as distinctly Ukrainian until the massive development of industrial mining in the 1930s. With the increase in size of industrialized Donbas cities, the population totals reflect a sharp distinction between the foreign workers populating the cities, and the Ukrainian population that remained tied to the agrarian rural areas.
The evening concluded with the singing of “Hory Nashy,” the traditional hymn of Ukrainian Lemkos, followed by “Bozhe Velykyi Yedynyi,” Mykola Lysenko’s spiritual anthem of Ukraine, both sung by Mr. Dobriansky.