Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 09.01.2018
Ukraine is rediscovering its history. Since the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-14, Ukrainians in Ukraine have been discovering and debating the past with an openness and an honesty that in years past was only found among the Ukrainian diaspora. The moment of “truth and reconciliation” for Ukraine should have happened in 1991, with the re-emergence of Ukrainian independence. But what the protestors were saying at EuroMaidan was that 1991 was more about the weakness of the Russian occupation regime than it was about the strength of the Ukrainian national movement. The reason for Ukraine’s renaissance now, after 2013, is there has been a fight for real independence. The corrupt Yanukovych regime was defeated and Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea and parts of Donbas is being fought for going on four years.
The drive to discover the truth about the past has led researchers to sites of mass graves in Ukraine from throughout the period of Russian occupation under the name “Soviet Union,” which was from 1920 to 1991. These are the sites where Russian occupation forces — the CheKa, the NKVD, the KGB, the Red Army – massacred Ukrainians. A recent discovery was a mass grave of Ukrainian National Republic soldiers in Vinnytsia region. The soldiers were members of the Second Volyn Division of the UNR Army. They were captured in November 1920 by the Red Army. Instead of treating their prisoners according to the rules of war, the Russians slaughtered them with swords. The skeletal remains that researchers uncovered were smashed to pieces, and the skulls were cloven. Shepherd boys witnessed the massacre, and told what they had seen to local villagers. The Russians wanted news of their brutal executions to spread, to be the definition of the regime of state terror which Russia was to impose upon Ukraine for the next 71 years.
A century ago, independent Ukraine lasted from 1917 to 1920. After 1920, Russian and Polish occupation regimes were set over the territory of Ukraine. The Russians set about to kill as many members of the Ukrainian national movement as they could, to erase the history of their struggle. Following up on the stories passed down by the villagers of Kukavka and Tarasivka in Vinnytsia region, the excavation of the remains of the UNR soldiers illuminates a true history of Ukraine. The UNR soldiers were fighters for the independence of Ukraine, not bandits or criminals as Russian hate propaganda would have it. And the Red Army soldiers were murderers, not “class warriors” or any other Bolshevik nonsense.
The mass grave site near the villages of Kukavka and Tarasivka in Vinnytsia region was excavated by “Dolya” (Destiny), the Lviv Regional Council Memorial Research Enterprise. The director of “Dolya” is historian Svyatoslav Sheremeta. Truth and reconciliation in the rediscovery of history is something the Ukrainian people have set about doing, but it is not something the Polish government is at all keen to do. On 18 November 2017, Svyatoslav Sheremeta was stopped from entering Poland and blacklisted by Poland for a year. It appears he fell foul of a threat of Polish Foreign Minister, Witold Waszczykowski, to bar Ukrainians who hold “anti-Polish views” from Poland. The “anti-Polish views” Svyatoslav Sheremeta is accused of holding is unclear. As a historian and director of “Dolya,” Svyatoslav Sheremeta uncovers the truth about the war between the People’s Republic of Poland and the Soviet Union on one side against the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army on the other side. Stalin and his puppet regime in Warsaw worked together to crush the Ukrainian national movement. This war lasted from 1944, beginning with the disarming of the Polish Home Army by the NKVD, up until 1949 as open warfare. The war continued well into the 1950s as partisan warfare. Svyatoslav Sheremeta and “Dolya” have been uncovering mass graves and execution sites where OUN members and UPA soldiers were murdered by the Russian occupation regime. The Polish government has a wholly negative view of the UPA, and acts against Ukrainians who deviate from that view.
The Ukrainian National Republic is seen in a new, truthful light by the excavation of the mass grave in Vinnytsia region. It adds to the growing national memory of Ukraine. Ukraine is not a “former Soviet” state. From 1920 to 1991, Ukraine was under foreign Russian occupation. Independence in name only from 1991 has been succeeded by real independence from 2013 onwards. Now, Ukrainians are fighting for their dignity, for a normal life, for the territorial integrity of the homeland against Russian invaders in Crimea and Donbas, and they’re fighting for the truth of history. The emptiness and artificiality of the “Russian world” in Ukraine is completely exposed. The genuinness and vitality of independence has become the felt experience of Ukrainians.