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Katyn in Reverse in Ukraine: Nazi-led Massacres turned into Soviet Massacres

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Ivan Katchanovski     Permalink
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(Article changed on December 13, 2012 at 21:44)

(Article changed on December 13, 2012 at 21:35)


Reburial ceremony
(Image by Photo by Volodymyr Muzychenko)
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Reburial ceremony by Photo by Volodymyr Muzychenko

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The remains of almost 400 people have been excavated in two mass graves in the Western Ukrainian town of Volodymyr-Volynskyi at the end of this year, and were reburied on November 30th. This brings the total number of people in these two graves to 747, since the first mass burial was partly uncovered last year. All the evidence, such as casings from German 9-millimeter caliber bullets dated from 1941, eyewitness accounts , execution methods, the prevalence of women and children, and historical studies , indicate that the victims were predominantly Jews, who were executed in the vicinity of the prison by the Nazis in a series of executions from July through December 1941.     

           However, with a few exceptions , journalists , experts , and government officials in Ukraine have continued to claim that mostly Polish victims of the mass executions by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) have been found in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, or that it was not possible to determine who and by whom was executed there. They also did it last year , when first the version of Polish POWs and then the version of Polish civilians killed by the NKVD were advanced as the only plausible explanation. Some Polish media, such as the public television network, along with a number of Poland's politicians and officials, also propagated the Polish victims of Soviet NKVD version. Like the last year, the newly found remains were reburied on November 30th in the presence of Ukrainian officials and the acting Consul General of Poland  under a cross with a sign indicating that they were victims of Soviet mass repressions from 1939-1941.

           With a few exceptions , the Ukrainian media refused to present views challenging misrepresentations of these Nazi massacres as Soviet massacres. This was the case last year with my article , which was based on my academic research project examining the involvement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in the Nazi-led mass murder in historic Volhynia, including Volodymyr-Volynskyi. While the Ukrainian service of the US-financed Radio Liberty posted my article on their website, it was removed in a few hours without any explanation. Similarly, conclusions of an exhumation report, which was presented by Polish archeologists to the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites in Poland, and which confirms "unequivocally" that the absolute majority of the victims were Volhynian Jews executed by the Nazis, have remained unreported in Ukraine. The same applies to the likelihood that a certain number of ethnic Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians were among these victims of the Nazi executions in Volodymyr-Volynskyi.

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           The executions in Volodymyr-Volynskyi were not an isolated phenomenon, but a widespread pattern of the Nazi-led mass murder during World War II in Ukraine. Both German and Soviet reports, archival documents, eyewitness testimonies, and academic studies, including my own forthcoming article, indicate that local militia in summer 1941 and then police, which were both controlled to a significant extent by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), assisted Nazi execution squads in the mass murder of Jews, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians, in many locations in Ukraine, including Volodymyr Volynskyi. However, many Ukrainian politicians, who hail the OUN as a national liberation movement and its leaders as national heroes , even though polls show that most Ukrainians do not consider them as such, deny or ignore the OUN's collaboration with Nazi Germany.

           It is hardly a coincidence that a candidate from Svoboda won the parliamentary seat in Volodymyr-Volynskyi in the national elections, held on October 28, 2012. Svoboda, which means Freedom in Ukrainian, is a political party that combines radical nationalism with elements of neo-Nazism and promotes itself as an ideological heir of the OUN. Svoboda, in spite of poll results that indicated otherwise , was deemed by some of the most prominent experts on Ukrainian politics as having little chance to clear the 5% threshold. They won more than 10% of the vote on the national party list, in addition to winning many parliamentary seats in majoritarian districts, primarily in Western Ukraine and Kyiv. Svoboda was welcomed into a coalition of the opposition parties, led by Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, which presents itself as democratic and pro-Western. Many leading media outlets in Ukraine, both pro-opposition and pro-government, supported the rise of Svoboda by giving them a prime tribune for advertising the party and its leaders and their ideological forebears from the OUN.

          The excavations in Volodymyr-Volynskyi are expected to renew next year. Archeologists say that more mass graves, holding the remains of thousands of people, are located on the grounds of the former prison there. The question is whether this case of Katyn in reverse, when the Nazi-led massacres in the Western Ukrainian town have been presented as Soviet massacres, will continue to unfold in plain view.  

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Ivan Katchanovski teaches at the Conflict Studies and Human Rights Program and the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. He was a Visiting Scholar at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, a (more...)

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