July 16, 2013

Ukrainian-Polish Relations: the Truth and Myths. "Zakerzonia". Part 4

Zakerzonia. Part 4.

Activity and Tactics

Special detachments "Wisla" started to fulfill their task, already having the experience of counter-insurgency operations in the years 1944-1947, and with a thoroughly developed plan. The operation was conducted in two phases: Phase 1 included only operations in the 1st zone, which included the Southern and South-Eastern parts of Rzeszow Province and several areas of the South-Eastern part of Lublin province, next to the Polish-Soviet border. The main task was the elimination of the rebels in the first zone, total deportation of the Ukrainian population and in parallel to conduct military reconnaissance in the second zone to prepare for the second phase. The operation in the first zone had lasted a month after the beginning of the operation "Wisla", and defeated the troops of UPA in the region. The UPA suffered heavy losses, many insurgents were taken prisoner.

To the operation "Wisla" the UPA responded by new attacks on small subunits of local Security Forces, increasing the number of ambushes and destructing rural estates and villages left behind by the deported Ukrainian population. The following months, however, were a time of gradual disintegration and liquidation of the UPA forces. Government troops were able to defeat the smaller in number (seven to one) Ukrainian Insurgent Army, methodically using well-trained Security Forces, combing through forests, improving the intelligence network, increasing the number of patrols and relentlessly pursuing the rebels. After May 1947, the UPA had lost any advantage in the initiative. It was forced to split into small groups of hundreds and platoons acting independently, because the kurin (battalion) structure was falling apart. Communication between subunits and coordination of their actions were much more complex, some units had ceased to exist. More and more bunkers were being captured by government forces, approaches to settlements blocked, and the insurgents were cut off from supplies.

During the 1st Phase of "Wisla", more than 900 soldiers of the UPA were killed, even more were taken prisoner. Several groups totaling more than 200 insurgents crossed the Polish-Czechoslovak border and fought to break into the American zone of occupation in Germany and Austria. A squad in the amount of one hundred soldiers, moved into the territory of Soviet Ukraine and there joined forces with the UPA. In Zakerzonia remained scattered groups (of 15-25 rebels each) and subunits of Security Patrols of the UPA (SB). The former boundaries of the area of ​​operations of the UPA ceased to exist. The surviving groups were acting more or less autonomously.

In parallel with offensive operations, special detachments "Wisla" were methodically deporting the local population, while maintaining a similar offensive phasing and zonal division of the operation. Thus, during the first stage, all ethnic Ukrainians were deported from the bordering on the Soviet Union lands, and the remaining insurgents lost the support of the local population.

During the II phase, the area of operations had shifted to the second zone, to the South of Lublin province. The main objectives of this phase were as follows: 1) to evict Ukrainians from the second zone, and 2) to destroy a powerful Battalion "Zaliznyak" in the area of operations of the UPA "Bastion". The first task was carried out within a certain time. The second could not be achieved immediately.

Head of the OUN Jaroslav Starukh — “Styah”
The Head of the OUN Jaroslav Starukh — “Styah”
The Chief of the UPA of Zakerzonia Myroslav Onyshkevych —"Orest"
The Chief of the UPA of Zakerzonia Myroslav Onyshkevych —"Orest"

Operation "Wisla" ended 31st July, 1947. However, a few months after the date, individual elements of the UPA were operating in the region, most of them — in the South-East of Lublin province.  They were the most hardened soldiers — members of the infrastructure of the OUN, Security Service (SB) and Military Police of the UPA. The area of ​​operations of the UPA "Bastion", where was acting the Battalion "Zaliznyak", was also a place of dislocation of the Main Headquarters of the OUN of Zakerzonia. On the 18th of September, 1947 this place was discovered, attacked and captured by the enemy. The Head of the OUN (Jaroslav Starukh — “Styah”) and Staff officers committed suicide in their bunker. The Chief of the UPA of Zakerzonia (Myroslav Onyshkevych —"Orest"), was arrested four months later in Western Poland. Elimination of the area of operations "Bastion" marked a complete defeat of the UPA and suppression of the Ukrainian national liberation movement in Zakerzonia.

There is no exact data about losses during the insurgency in Zakerzonia. Official Polish sources estimate losses of Ukrainians for the period from 1944 to 1947 in the amount of 4,000 people. The real figure must have been more impressive.  Out of the four thousand — 1,500 were the UPA fighters, the rest were  members of the OUN and civilians.

Polish losses: 2,196 people, including 997 soldiers, 600 Police officers and local officials, as well as 599 civilians.

Control over the population and resources

In autumn 1944, when the Red Army had entered the lands of Zakerzonia, local Ukrainian population was gradually deported to the USSR (Ukraine), and Polish citizens of Ukraine were moved to Poland, mainly — into rural areas of Zakerzonia to replace the deported Ukrainians. No matter how important at the time were the reasons for Ukrainian insurgency (UPA) on these lands, the deportation of the population immediately grew into a huge problem of Ukrainians on both sides of the "Curzon Line". The task of the program of deportation for the future was a "solution" by Polish authorities of the issue of the  Ukrainian settlements on historical Ukrainian lands (Kholmshchyna, Peremyshlyanshchyna, Lemkivshchyna), and now — in the South-East of  Poland. But the immediate task was elimination of the insurgency, depriving it of the support of the local population. Ironically, resettlement prompted Ukrainian peasants to support insurgents.

 During the first stage, being supported by the local population and skillfully using its being oppressed by the Polish government, the UPA had been developing the insurgency, therefore the exchange of populations was carried out slowly. So there was a vicious circle: the resettlement program was adding fuel to the fire of insurgency, prompting local Ukrainian residents to supply the UPA with food and recruits; in turn, insurgencies made the authorities of Poland carry out the program of deportation more intensely. Perhaps, then, it was obvious that this circle could be broken with the defeat of the UPA, but at that moment the struggle for Zakerzonia and for the local Ukrainian population continued.

According to the reports of the Polish State Agency for Resettlement in 1944-1946, potential candidates for resettlement to the Soviet Union were considered 491.493 people, including 122.618 with families living in the South-East of the country. The locals did not hide their hostility to the program of resettlement from their native lands, and the propaganda of the UPA only added to the hostility because Ukrainians hoped that the government, feeling strong resistance, would stop mass deportation. The UPA conducted large-scale operations, preventing resettlement. It urged Ukrainians to resist, and Polish soldiers — not to participate in the government's resettlement program.To support the program for the protection of villages and crops from destruction, guaranteeing safety of Polish settlers in Zakerzonia, as well as to force the evacuation of Ukrainian population, additional army units were drawn to the area.

Despite the resistance, the resettlement program had been completed and achieved its goal. In the whole 488.612 ethnic Ukrainians (122.618 families) moved from Zakerzonia to the USSR (mainly from the provinces of Lublin and Rzeszow — to Western Ukraine) for the period from 15 November 1944 to 1 November 1946.

In late 1946, the Polish government officials had estimated that in the entire South-Eastern Poland there remained not more than 20.000 Ukrainians, who managed to avoid deportation and who, in their (officials’) opinion, could not be a source of a strong support to insurgents. However, once the UPA renewed its actions at the beginning of 1947, the government had to revise its previous data: the number of Ukrainian population in the region, as a source of supply of food and recruits for the UPA had risen to 80.000. Later it became clear that even this figure was an underestimate. Therefore, the Polish government had determined as one of the main goals of the operation "Wisla" deportation of the local Ukrainian population.

In April 1947 the Provisional Government of Poland and the Soviet Union signed an Agreement on the Final Demarcation of the Common Border. This put an end to an exchange of populations between the two countries, and the power structures of Poland decided to deport the Ukrainians that had remained in the South-East of the country, to the newly attached Western and North-Western provinces (former East German provinces and East Prussia). This radical decision resulted in further intense discussions and serious debates in the Communist and non-Communist media. One of the veterans of Polish operations against Ukrainian insurgents, Brigadier General Blum wrote about it as follows:

"In the history of every nation, there are events that cannot be fully justified, applying absolute criteria for evaluation and abstract humanism, but which deserve all understanding of descendents, and a positive judgment of history. Resettlement of Ukrainians of Poland in 1947 was one of such events."

Within the three months, during which the operation “Wisla” had been carried out, to the North-West of Poland had been forcibly resettled more than 140.000 Ukrainians. Thanks to this extremely barbaric action, the government of Poland had achieved two goals: 1) had eliminated the base of support to the Ukrainian insurgency in Zakerzonia, condemning the UPA to the unconditional defeat, and 2) had made true what for decades had been a dream of Polish government agencies of all political persuasions — to solve the problem of Ukrainian ethnic Eastern provinces.

All deported Ukrainians living in Western Poland, with some exceptions, even now are not allowed to return to their native land of the Ukrainian Zakerzonia.

External support of Polish operations against insurgents

Polish counter-insurgency operations had been significantly supported by the Soviet Union. Here are some examples.

The Polish Army was formed at the territory of the Soviet Union, was trained by Soviet instructors, armed with Soviet weapons, and, apart from this, some units were commanded by Soviet officers. Polish Security Forces and Militia were modeled on the Soviet services, schooled and instructed by Soviet experts on security issues, and equipped with Soviet weapons. Soviet specialists, political and military advisers were present in the post-war period in all Polish military units and Security Services, and using their own experience, they were a source of valuable advice and expert analysis in all spheres of internal affairs of Poland, including operations against insurgents.

Numerous units of the Soviet Armed Forces, dislocated at the territory of Poland immediately after the war, provided direct and indirect support to the Provisional Government of Poland, and especially — to its Security Services. In 1945-1946, the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs troops had been conducting operations in Eastern provinces of Poland. They helped struggle against insurgents, both, Polish and Ukrainian, and guarded the Polish-Soviet border, making it impossible for the UPA to move from Zakerzonia to the Soviet Ukraine and vice versa. They also supplied the Polish Security Service with intelligence information concerning operations of the UPA on both sides of the border.

Apart from the Soviet assistance, the Polish Security Services were also receiving support from their colleagues in Czechoslovakia. Security Service of Czechoslovakia blocked its part of the Czechoslovak-Polish border and did everything to ensure that the UPA units were unable to hide at their territory and conducted its operations against insurgents as they tried to cross the border. It actively exchanged intelligence information on the UPA with its Polish colleagues.

The assistance provided by the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia to the Poles in matters of internal affairs, was documented in February 1947, by a tripartite agreement. They coordinated their operations against the UPA insurgents. This agreement was the prelude to jointly conducted by the Security Services of Poland and Czechoslovakia operations under the relevant code-names "Operation "Wisla" and "Operation "Teplice".

Noncombat operations of the UPA

Intelligence operations. The UPA had a well-developed, efficient and reliable intelligence network. This was possible not only because of the support of the population in the area of ​​operations to the rebels, but also, and above all, thanks to the efficiency of their secret organization — the OUN. The latter, apart from having established a network of cells in Ukrainian communities of Zakerzonia, also organized and supported an infrastructure of the  insurgents, one of the functions of which was to gather intelligence information on numbers, dislocation and movement of government forces of  Internal Security, the attitude of the local population, Polish and Ukrainian, to insurgents, numbers and activity of local Police stations, plans for military trainings, production facilities and so on. Moreover, under the jurisdiction of the OUN was Security Service (SB), performing the role of Counter-Intelligence and Security Police. Apart from guaranteeing security, this Service was collecting intelligence information necessary for the OUN and UPA. The UPA had its own Military Intelligence units at hundreds and kurins (company and battalion) levels.

 OUN and UPA had an effective Security system. This is confirmed by the fact that during the period of the Ukrainian national liberation movement in Zakerzonia (1944-1947), not a single enemy agent got to any important part of the OUN or UPA. National and ethnic isolation may have been the main factor that worked in favor of the rebels. One of the Commanders of the Polish troops who fought with insurgents, Colonel Jan Gerhard, recalled:

"Thanks to our agents-informants within the Organization, we had accurate information about it (he means the Polish insurgent organization). However, this form of intelligence work did not bring any positive results regarding gangs (!) of Ukrainian rebels."

The practice of assigning pseudonyms to each member of the OUN and UPA, as well as code names to each combat unit up to the UPA groups, helped to observe safety measures and complicated fighting government troops’ gathering intelligence information, as these code names and pseudonyms were changed frequently.

Intelligence activities of the OUN-UPA began to lose intensity with the start of mass deportation of Ukrainians from the area and mass arrests of suspected members of the infrastructure — the latter was broken and destroyed. It became even weaker, when the UPA had to recruit new members, some even against their will, with no experience of guerrilla warfare and poorly trained. Captured, these "green rebels" in interrogations showed almost no resistance, and it is likely that this is how most of the valuable intelligence information (location of bunkers and units) was got by government troops.

To be continued