Officials in Poland and Ukraine, staunch strategic partners, have unexpectedly exchanged bitter remarks regarding a painful mutual past that includes mass murder.
This year is the 80th anniversary of the massacres of tens of thousands of Poles by Ukrainians that Poland calls genocide.
In 1943-44, Ukrainian nationalists and others massacred about 100,000 Poles in Volhynia and other regions which were then eastern Poland, under Nazi German occupation, and which are now part of Ukraine.
Seeking to calm emotions, an aide to Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said Monday that the Poles only wanted the truth and respect for the tens of thousands of Polish victims.
“We are only expecting the truth and respect for the victims and we will be (…) working on this theme in order to have a full clarification of the subject and respect paid to possibly all the victims,” Marcin Przydacz said on Polish state TVP1.
The killings remain a sore spot between the two nations, even though Warsaw and Kyiv have convergent views on regional security and Poland is among the strongest supporters of Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s military aggression.
The spat between Ukraine and its staunch ally began last week with Poland’s foreign ministry spokesman, Lukasz Jasina, saying that on the 80th anniversary Poland was expecting an apology from Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the 1943-44 massacres.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland, Vasyl Zvarych, reacted by saying that any suggestions of what Kyiv or Zelenskyy should do were “unacceptable and unfortunate.” He later toned down the statement to say Ukraine was “open to dialogue” about history and honored the memory of the victims. He stressed the value of current cooperation by saying the two neighbouring nations are ”stronger together.”
The World War II mass murders in eastern regions of Poland brought death to some 100,000 Poles. An estimated 15,000 Ukrainians died in retaliation. Entire villages were burned down and all their inhabitants killed by Ukrainian nationalists and their helpers seeking to establish an independent Ukraine state.
Many of the victims have never been found or identified. Poland’s government has been pressing Ukraine for years for permission to do exhumations and seek for remains.
Poland’s leaders have insisted that bringing the full truth into the open will strengthen bilateral relations and neutralize vulnerabilities that could be exploited by third countries seeking to undermine these ties.