Poland marks the anniversary of Volhynia massacre

July 11 marks the National Day of Remembrance of Victims of Genocide perpetrated by Ukrainian nationalists on citizens of the Second Republic of Poland during WWII.

EXPLAINER: Volhynia massacres and its significance in Polish-Ukrainian relations

The Volhynia massacres consisted of anti-Polish genocidal ethnic cleansings conducted by Ukrainian nationalists.

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On Thursday, the Polish president laid a wreath at the Monument of Victims of the Volhynia massacre.

“If we speak about building relations between Polish and Ukrainian nations and states... the one thing is certain: we need remembrance so that nothing like this what happened between our nations in the past, would never occur again,” the Polish president said.

On July 11-12 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) began a coordinated action to exterminate Polish civilians in the Volhynia, a region which was part of Poland until 1939.

In 1943-1945, around 100,000 Polish people were murdered in what is now Western Ukraine. The anti-Polish actions reached their climax on July 11, 1943, when Ukrainian nationalists attacked Polish citizens living in around 150 towns and villages. People present at houses of worship at that time were killed and around 50 Catholic churches were burnt to the ground.

According to historians, around 100,000 Polish nationals were killed in the massacre, including 40,000-60,000 in Volhynia and 20,000-40,000 in Eastern Galicia, and at least 4,000 on the territory of today's Poland. According to Poland's National Remembrance Institute, some 10,000-12,000 Ukrainians were killed during Polish retaliatory operations by the spring of 1945.

The genocide conducted on Poles is remembered also because of severe brutality of the perpetrators. Victims were often tortured, mutilated and maimed by Ukrainians. There are reports of people being cut alive with saws, scythes, murdered with pitchforks and other tools, as well as cases of impalements.

The term “Volhynia massacre” not only concerns mass murders in Volhynia but also in the then Polish provinces of Lwów, Tarnopolskie, Stanisławowskie, Lubelskie and Poleskie. Even though the Volhynia massacre was an act of “ethnic cleansing,” it meets the definition of genocide, because its purpose was to completely eradicate the Polish ethnic group in Volhynia.

The National Day of Remembrance of Victims of Genocide perpetrated by Ukrainian nationalists on citizens of the Second Republic of Poland was established by the Polish parliament in July 2016.

A holy mass commemorating murdered people was held on Thursday at the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army in Warsaw. The main ceremonies commemorating the massacre will take place later in the afternoon.