It’s rare one finds good news coming out of Ukraine these days. Minsk II is a sick joke, corruption is still rampant, and the transfer bus from Boryspil no doubt still sucks. But lo! It appears that some folks in Ukraine, among them former presidents and other important public figures, have taken a bold step towards bringing the country into the 21st century.
A proposal has been put forth from the Ukrainian side to create a joint day of remembrance for the victims of the “Volyn tragedy.” To be sure, the word “tragedy” is a bit euphemistic. “Genocide” would be more appropriate to describe what the OUN-UPA committed starting in 1943 against the largely defenseless Polish population. But seeing as how the consistent tactic of the Bandera cult going all the way back to 1945 has been to outright deny any war crimes or atrocities of the OUN and UPA, this a major step forward.
There are a few key things to note about the proposal. Firstly, it may not be met with open arms by many Poles, especially considering the rise of the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which has hitherto demonstrated a propensity for whitewashing history. The “patriotic” Polish narrative of WWII generally portrays Poland as a wholly innocent and blameless victim of virtually all sides. More radical renditions posit Poland as a “savior” of Europe. As it pertains to Ukrainians, Polish nationalist have tended to deny the persecution of Ukrainians and other minorities during the interwar era of the Second Republic, as well as the murder of around 20,000 Ukrainians in areas outside of UPA control by forces such as the AK (Polish Home Army).
The second point to note is who is absent on this list of figures who support the proposal. We don’t see Volodymyr Viatrovych, for example, in spite of his being head of the Institute of National Memory. Perhaps that’s because rather than preserve and study national memory, Viatrovych seems to have spent his entire career whitewashing and distorting the legacy of Bandera and the OUN. A large part of that has involved transforming the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volyn into a two-sided “war.”
This is a small step, but an important one, and while I’m cautious I must admit these days I’ll take any good news I can get. One last thing about this proposal that everyone should keep in mind is that while it is good that Ukraine collectively examines this event in a critical and proper way, this is not a question of Ukraine’s collective guilt. The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians did not support the OUN or UPA. A considerable number of those Ukrainians who did joint the insurgent army did so under duress. Another large portion joined, again sometimes under duress, long after these crimes had been committed. It bears keeping in mind that historically there have been two factions who have resolutely insisted on associating Ukrainians and Ukrainian culture with Bandera and his radical right-wing movement. The first is naturally the descendants of the Ukrainian right-wing nationalist movement, and those they have duped with their fairy tales about a heroic revolutionary struggle against the Nazis and Soviets. The other side is the Kremlin and its minions.