UKRAINE      

 

History of
Polish-Ukrainian Relations

 byElena Zinchenko

 

The antagonistic relationship between Poland and Ukraine can be traced to its roots as far as fourteenth century.  This relationship eventually evolved into an intense religious, social, ethnic and military conflict that lasted for over 600 years and into the twentieth century as well as permeated into all aspects of life in Ukraine.

 

The Polish acquisition of Ukrainian lands and subjects was a crucial turning point in the history of both nations and more importantly cultural development.  For the Polish it forever turned their sphere of influence eastward, instead of the previous western orientation, for the Ukrainians this meant replacement of native rulers by foreigners and subordination of a nation to a foreign people of a different religion and culture.  The conquest of Ukraine took place following a 1339 treaty between the Polish monarch Casimir the Great and king Louis of Hungary, which stipulated that the two kings would cooperate in conquering the territory.  The main concentration of the seizure was the Polish territories of Volhynia and Galitsia.  The Poles, aided by the Hungarians fought against the Ukrainians who were helped by the Lithuanians for more than two decades. 

 

The causes of this multinational conflict were not only territorially based, but also greatly based on religion. The Poles, proclaiming themselves to be the “buffer of Christianity”[1] partly due to their Catholic conviction and partly due to plans to receive papal support, fought against the orthodox Ukraine, considering them non-Catholic enemies who were considered “morally and culturally inferior”[2].  This religious difference based on ethnic conviction marked the beginning of the antagonistic relationship between Ukraine and Poland.  As a result of this military conflict Poland acquired huge Ukrainian territories consisting of approximately 200,000 people and close to 52,000 sq. km.[3]  This important annexation increased the holdings of the Polish crown by 50%.   Initially the Polish monarchs were subtle about introducing any changes among their new acquired subjects and referred to Ukraine as the “kingdom of Rus’”[4].  The natives used their own language and currency and the ancient rights, privileges, and traditions were allowed to be preserved.  This cultivated difference later on proved to be the major cause of the strife between the two entities for over six centuries.

 

By 1935, the largest and most important group of minorities in Poland consisted of five million Ukrainians[5]; however, this Ukrainian population consisted of two distinct types, each influenced by direct and indirect foreign encouragement as well as political and military intervention. The Molotov-Rebentrop Pact of August 21, 1939 that was signed between the USSR and Germany, divided Poland into two distinct spheres of interest.  The Ukrainian population that fell under the German influence lived under completely different conditions than those living under Soviet occupation: Austria-Germany was fostering Ukrainian nationalism to counter-balance the Russian tradition of never permitting any kind of Ukrainian separation.  The break between the Ukrainian peoples was so distinct that even the two “types” of Polish-Ukrainians resented each other.  Germany used this resentment in order to produce a further separation between the peoples of Polish and Ukrainian decent by pretending to act on the side of an “independent Ukraine” giving moral and financial support to the anti-Polish movement.  This tactic on behalf of the German government proved to “push” Ukrainians into their sphere of influence by allowing them to contrast their lives with those of their Soviet brothers because there was no restriction on national language or customs which was in direct contrast with the ruthlessness of the Soviet government.  This brought the Ukrainians living in Poland back into the western sphere while pushing the Ukrainians living under Soviet government further away to the east. 

 

 This incredible break between the Poles and the Ukrainians occurred as soon as the Nazi-Soviet war broke out.  The Ukrainian activist Taras Bulba-Borovets linked his forces with the UNR-Petliurist government-in-exile in Warsaw and formed a unit called “Polissian Sich” which later became the UPA (Ukrainska Povstanska Armiia).[6]  Taras Bulba led this military unit in a fight against both the Germans and the Soviets in the name of a Ukrainian independent state.  This army was the first nationalist military unit, organized in 1941 and consisted of several hundred guerrilla-type soldiers.  The idea of independence forced the Ukrainian people to resent all foreigners who interfered with their state throughout the course of history; Poland, Germany and the Soviet Union.  Finally, Ukraine was annexed by the Soviet Union and renamed Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. All nationalism was suppressed and Ukraine lost all national identity, bearing most of the economic burden for the USSR. 

 

In 1991, when the Soviet government fell apart, Ukraine finally became an independent state, an achievement that took over six centuries to accomplish.  With their new found independence, Ukrainian people resent most of their geographical neighbors such as Germany, Russia and Poland, learning from history that independence is a sacred virtue that should be guarded from foreign invasions and especially influences from both the east and the west.  Ukraine’s belligerent relationship with Poland throughout history had enormous effects on the development of Ukrainian nationalist, finally leading in complete national independence.

 

[1] Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. University of Toronto Press. 1998. Page 73

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Umiastowski, R. Russia and the Polish Republic 1918-1941. Aquafondata, London. Page 73

[6] Sutelny, page 473

 

Works Consulted

Budurowycz, Bohdan, B. Polish-Soviet Relations: 1932-1939. Columbia University             Press. 1963.

Shotwell, James, T. Poland and Russia: 1919-1945. King’s Crown Press. 1945.

Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. University of Toronto Press. 1998.

Umiastowski, R. Russia and the Polish Republic: 1918-1941. Aquafondata Press,             London.

 

 

 

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