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Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine features: The History of Ukrainians in Poland

Marko Robert Stech (Toronto)

April 2013

Although many Ukrainians lived within Polish national territory before the 20th century, relatively few of them resided within ethnic Polish lands. A substantial number of Ukrainians lived in the borderland Lemko region, Sian region, Kholm region and Podlachia, but only approximately 20,000 lived in Poland proper. Many of that group left Poland during the First World War. They were replaced in the interwar period with a very different type of Ukrainian community. With the final defeat of the Ukrainian National Republic in its struggle for independence some 30,000 Ukrainians, mostly military personnel, remained or were interned in Poland and Poland became a major center of Ukrainian emigre political activity until 1939.

“Wisla” Operation

During the early part of the Second World War (1939-41) the number of Ukrainians in Poland increased dramatically as a result of the influx of refugees from the Bolshevik-occupied territories of Western Ukraine. However, Ukrainian life in Poland changed completely in the postwar period. Most Ukrainians who lived in central Poland left for the West, and most of those remaining were resettled as a result of the final alignment of borders between the Polish People’s Republic and the USSR. Some 500,000 Ukrainians living in PPR were resettled in the Ukrainian SSR.

Nevertheless a substantial Ukrainian minority remained in northwestern Galicia, the Sian region, Podlachia, and particularly the Lemko region, which was controlled by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 1946-7. In 1947 the Polish government mounted Operation Wisla, a wholesale forced deportation of Ukrainians from their ethnographic territory. They were resettled in the German territories acquired by Poland after the Second World War. Only in 1956, after a liberalization of the communist regime, were Ukrainians granted certain national minority rights and allowed to form their own organization, the Ukrainian Social and Cultural Society, which in 1990 was reconstituted as the Association of Ukrainians in Poland…

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LEMKO REGION. The territory traditionally inhabited by the Lemkos forms an ethnographic peninsula 140 km long and 25-50 km wide within Polish and Slovak territory. A small part of the Lemko region extends into the territory of Ukraine. After the deportation of Lemkos from the northern part in 1946 as a result of the Operation Wisla, only the southern part, southwest of the Carpathian Mountains, known as the Presov region in Slovakia, has remained inhabited by Lemkos. Until 1946 the Galician Lemko region comprised the southern part of Nowy Sacz, Gorlice, Jaslo, Krosno, and Sianik counties, the southwestern part of Lisko county, and four villages of Nowy Targ county. The area covered nearly 3,500 sq km and had a population of 200,000, of which 160,000 (1939) were Ukrainians inhabiting about 300 villages. The southern Lemko region belonged to Kyiv’s sphere of influence from the mid-10th century to the 1020s, when it came under the rule of Hungary. The eastern part of the northern Lemko region belonged to Kyivan Rus’, and then the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. After the Polish King Casimir III the Great occupied the eastern part of the Lemko region in the 1340s, the entire Lemko region came under the rule of Poland until 1772…

SIAN (SAN) REGION. A name occasionally used to designate the area situated approximately along both sides of the Sian River north of the Lemko region and the city of Sianik along the border between Ukrainian and Polish ethnic territories. The Sian region includes sections of the Low Beskyd and the Middle Beskyd, the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and the Sian Lowland. Its major centers include the cities of Peremyshl, Jaroslaw, and Sianik. It was part of the Kyivan Rus’ state and the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia before coming under Polish control, as part of the Rus’ voivodeship, in 1340-1772. In 1772-1918 the Sian region was part of the Austrian Empire, in 1918-19, part of the Western Ukrainian National Republic, and in 1923-39, part of the Polish state. In 1939, as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the region was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union along the Sian River, and then in 1941 occupied totally by the Germans. It was subsequently taken over by the USSR and then ceded once more to Poland in a treaty signed on 16 August 1945. Only a tiny corner of the region, around Peremyshl, was incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR…

PEREMYSHL (PRZEMYSL). A city (2006 pop 66,715) on the Sian River. One of the oldest cities in Galicia, it has been throughout its history a major Ukrainian political, cultural, and religious center. Peremyshl is first mentioned in the chronicles under the year 981 when Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great annexed it to the Kyivan state. In the late 11th century it became the seat of a separate Peremyshl principality ruled by the Rostyslavych dynasty of Rus’ princes. In 1349 Peremyshl was captured by the Polish king Casimir III the Great. In 1434 Peremyshl became a starostvo center in the Rus’ voivodeship. In the 16th and early 17th centuries the city was an important cultural center, but it declined in the 18th century. In 1772 Peremyshl was transferred to Austria. Under Austrian rule new opportunities opened before Ukrainians in Peremyshl. Thanks to the efforts of Ivan Mohylnytsky and the support of Ukrainian bishops the city became, in the first half of the 19th century, an important Ukrainian educational center. It remained a vital religious center until 1939: it was the seat of the Greek Catholic Bishop Yosafat Kotsylovsky and the home of the Peremyshl Greek Catholic Theological Seminary. In 1939, of 54,200 residents in Peremyshl, 8,600 (15.8 percent) were Ukrainians…

KHOLM (CHELM) REGION. A historical-geographical land west of the Buh River, bordering on the Polish Lublin region in the west, Volhynia in the east, Podlachia in the north, and Galicia in the south. Because it was a borderland, the Kholm region did not develop strong ties with the rest of Ukraine’s territories, and until the 20th century its Ukrainian population had a relatively weak sense of national identity. The reign of Prince Danylo Romanovych of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia in the 13th century was the exception: being on the periphery of the Mongol invasion, the region enjoyed relative peace and prosperity, and Danylo made Kholm, its major city, his capital. Its proximity to Poland, however, made the region susceptible to Polish influences and facilitated its Polonization, beginning in the 14th century. Thereafter the history of both the Kholm region and Podlachia unfolded in a manner that was unique for Ukraine’s lands, particularly in the religious sphere. After the Second World War the overwhelming majority of the Ukrainian population was forcibly resettled by the Polish authorities as part of the Operation Wisla, and few Ukrainians live there today…

PODLACHIA (PODLASIE). A historical-geographical region along the middle stretch of the Buh River between the Kholm region in the south and the Belarus border in the north and between Mazovia in the west and Volhynia and Polisia in the east. The Ukrainian name is derived from the word liakh‘Pole’ and means ‘near Poland,’ whereas the Polish name is derived from las ‘forest,’ and means ‘near the forest.’ The name was first used in 1520 to designate Podlachia voivodeship, which extended at that time as far north as the sources of the Borba River. The region had an area of approx 5,350 sq km and included Biala Podlaska, Volodava, and Kostiantyniv (Konstantynów) counties. Because of its peripheral location Podlachia did not develop strong ties with other parts of Ukraine or a sharp sense of national identity. In the northern part the national distinctions between Ukrainians and Belarusians did not crystallize. Podlachia’s proximity to the Polish heartland facilitated Polish expansion into the region. Flanked by Prussia on one side and the marshlands of Polisia on the other, Podlachia served as a corridor between Poland and Lithuania, Belarus, and Russia…

UKRAINIAN SOCIAL AND CULTURAL SOCIETY (USKT). Established in 1956, the USKT was the only community institution in postwar Poland allowed to engage in Ukrainian cultural and educational activities until the 1980s. In spite of its official sanction, the USKT functioned under surveillance by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 1981 the USKT headquarters in Warsaw oversaw 170 groups with nearly 6,000 members, and in 1988, 180 groups with about 7,500 members, all of whom were spread throughout Poland. Of these, only 10 percent lived on traditional Ukrainian ethnographic territory. For a long time the USKT was barred from forming groups in the Kholm region and in Podlachia. The largest branches (1981 figures) were in Peremyshl (400 members), Gdansk (250), Szczecin (250), Koszalin (200), Cracow, Katowice, Olsztyn, Slupsk, Warsaw, and Wroclaw. The society has published the weekly Nashe slovo as well as the annual Ukraïns’kyi kalendar (currently Ukraïns’kyi al’manakh). In 1990 the USKT was reconstituted as the Association of Ukrainians in Poland…

The preparation, editing, and display of the IEU entries about the art of Ukrainian baroque engraving were made possible by the financial support of the Canadian Foundation For Ukrainian Studies.


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