Having Ukraine in the news on a daily basis has me worried about the cousins I met when I was in Ukraine in November 2013. They are distant family, but nonetheless family since I have so little family. These cousins are from my cousin Ewa’s grandparents family tree. Her grandfather and my grandfather were brothers, so there is some blood there.
After the war, the part of Poland where my parents were from became Ukrainian SSR and while many Poles were repatriated back to Poland others stayed and became Ukrainian citizens. Since there was much ethnic and political tension, not everyone successfully returned to Poland. This was the fate of the cousins that stayed in Kosow (Kosiv). There was fear about traveling out of the country because of roaming Banderites, bandits, who were responsible for hundreds of Polish deaths in 1943 and 1944. Today the cousins have made a life for themselves but have expressed fear for the future and will flee to Poland if there is more Russian aggression.
After World War II, tension between Poles and Ukrainians was high and was increasing between the nationalistic Ukrainian organizations such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Polish Home Army. The Poles were the minority in this region and therefore had little influence. The expulsion of Poles from the Kresy regions was the Soviet plan, which took place towards the end of World War II and immediately after. The ethnic displacement of Poles was agreed to the Allied leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Since Stalin’s invasion of Poland on September 17, 1939, the Kresy – Western Ukraine, was forever annexed into the Soviet Union.
In today’s world not much is different. What Russia wants, Russia gets. Since Russia is flexing it’s muscle, trying to control the Crimea and ultimately all of Ukraine, there are many similarities to what Stalin accomplished during and after the war and what Putin is doing today. All done through fear and intimidation. There is little irony when comparing the two periods in history. Whether the Poles suffered then or the Ukrainians suffer now, the land and it’s people become victims under the Russian thumb. During my visit to Ukraine I saw a third world country with high unemployment as evidenced by young men hanging around on street corners during the day, and poverty. Old women were selling home grown garlic and mushrooms on street corners. The infrastructure is deteriorated as evidenced by the poor condition of roads and buildings.
The following is an excerpt from my Ukrainian trip diary:
We left Kosow early on the morning with Uncle Mietek to drop him off at his home near Krakow. He took us a different way home than how we came. The trip took us through Stryj which is the boyhood home of my Tatus. The roads over all were somewhat better, but still not the best. As soon as we felt that the roads were ok, we hit a huge pot hole and two hubcaps flew off and only one was recovered down the road. The tire rims on the right side of the car were bent. A few miles down the road we realized the right front was flat from the impact. So after taking all the stuff out of the back of the car Ania and Uncle Mietek changed the tire.
Off we went and did find our way to Styj, which is an urban town, not a village as is Kosow. I can only imagine that the town was just like that back in the day when Tatus roamed the streets. We did stop for a few minutes near a beautiful church that has a shrine by it that is in Polish and after poking into the church there were descriptions written in both Ukrainian and Polish. The church obviously serves a large Polish population. I left the last of my Hrivneks in collection basket in my dad’s memory, betting that he probably darkened that door on one occasion or another.
Off we were on some really nice roads through L’wow heading to the boarder. The Ukrainian government built a nice autostrada for the 2012 futball competition. The rest of the country could benefit from such activities.
Then the adventure really began. The line to cross the border back into Poland was very long, and we were crawling toward the Ukrainian border patrol gates. Ania, driving the diesel kept starting and stopping the engine obviously trying to save on gas consumption. However, hearing other diesels still running as were we advancing I was suspect of the wisdom of what she was doing. As we were only several meters from the first gate, she was not able to restart the car. We were seemingly stranded! People came up to try and help but to no avail. It was obvious that the battery was dead and it was starting to rain. Cars were going around us as we just sat there. When the last of the automotive geniuses were not able to help someone mentioned that we push the car through the border. There was some dissention but I piped up that we don’t have a choice, let’s push. So that is what we did. In the meantime Ania asked fellow travelers whether they had jumper cables, but no one seems to travel with them! One person even tried to pop the clutch but there was not enough room to do this.
As we traveled to the Polish side under man power Ania called roadside assistance and we parked in front of a café to wait and get some tea and a bit to eat.
All told it took us 19 hours to get back to Opole after dropping Uncle off in Oszwiecim, (Auszwicz), outside of Krakow. The trip there tool 13 hours and we thought that was long!!