A significant burial ground containing the remains of Poles who were victims of a World War II ethnic cleansing campaign in western Ukraine has been discovered, according to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The mass grave was found near the town of Puzhniki in Ukraine’s Ternopol Region and was located by a joint Polish-Ukrainian team, including specialists from the Pomeranian Medical University, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, and Ukrainian archeologists. The search took four months, and this is the first such discovery in nine years on Ukrainian territory.
The discovery has led to a request from Warsaw for consent from Kiev to exhume and examine the remains, as well as provide them with a dignified burial. Prime Minister Morawiecki personally visited the search area in July and emphasized the importance of uncovering the truth about the Volyn Massacre as a means to forge a path to the future for both Poland and Ukraine.
The Volyn Massacre, which occurred between 1943 and 1944, involved the murder of between 40,000 and 100,000 Poles in an ethnic cleansing campaign led by Ukrainian nationalists in the Volhynia and Galicia regions of western Ukraine and eastern Poland. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), an extremist paramilitary group affiliated with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), carried out the mass killings as part of their radical anti-Semitic ideology. The UPA also collaborated with Nazi Germany in their efforts to exterminate Jews within Ukrainian territories during the Nazi occupation.
The tragedy of the Volyn Massacre continues to be a contentious issue in the relationship between Poland and Ukraine. In September, Poland’s ambassador to Ukraine, Bartosz Cichocki, criticized Ukraine for glorifying WWII-era Ukrainian nationalists involved in the mass murder of Poles. Cichocki emphasized the importance of allowing Poland to exhume their deceased compatriots rather than honoring those who had killed them.
The elevation of OUN leader Stepan Bandera to the status of a national hero in modern Ukraine has further strained relations not only with Poland but also with Israel. Bandera’s role in the Volyn Massacre and his collaboration with Nazi forces have caused controversy and led to calls for Ukraine to apologize for the atrocity. The issue holds such significance for Poland that it has called for it to be addressed at the highest level of Ukrainian leadership.
The discovery of the mass grave in western Ukraine serves as a reminder of the brutalities committed during World War II and highlights the need for reckoning and reconciliation between nations. The uncovering of such grave sites reinforces the importance of acknowledging and confronting historical atrocities to build a more peaceful and understanding future.