September 23, 2013

There Is No Grave — There Were No Ukrainians

The Ukrainian village Bigali is situated in Nadsyannya (territory of present Poland), 10-15 kilometers from the current Ukrainian - Polish border. Nearby there is a village of Krakivets with the famous border crossing point between the two countries. It used to be a noisy, typical Ukrainian village near the town of Lubaczow, from which descends and where  had lived till the age of 16 my father Ivan. As a child, he grazed a cow there, played “vulkan” with boys, went to the primary school, left for the city of Yaroslav to study at the gymnasium... In a word, had a lot of fun and responsibilities which many of his peers in that land before the Second World War had. In 1945, the Ukrainian family of 45 year old Fedir Sokolovskyi and his 39 year old wife, Anastasia (my deceased grandparents) with six children (the oldest was my then 16 year old father) were evicted from the village.

The struck  by lightning lime tree near the church in Shchutkiv, remembers how Ukrainians went to their church
The struck  by lightning lime tree near the church in Shchutkiv, remembers how Ukrainians went to their church.
Photographs by V.Hvozd

They were the first Ukrainians who, according to the agreement between Stalin and the Polish President, had to leave the Eastern part of Poland. I remember my grandfather told me that when he was offered a choice: to go East, to the Ukrainians, or — West, to the once German territories attached to the postwar Poland. I chose the former. Though I was scared to go to the Soviet Union, but I was going to “mine”, Ukrainians. Hoped to “visit” for 2-3 years and to come back home... Sadly, grandparents died one after another in 1980 and 1990, respectively, having never  returned at least for a day to their native Bigali…

They were the first Ukrainians who, according to the agreement between Stalin and the Polish President, had to leave the Eastern part of Poland. I remember my grandfather told me that he was offered a choice: to go East, to the Ukrainians, or — West, to the once German territories attached to the postwar Poland. He chose the former. Though it was scary to go to the Soviet Union, but he was going to “his”, Ukrainians. Hoped to “visit” for 2-3 years and to come back home... Sadly, grandparents died one after another in 1980 and 1990, respectively, having never  returned at least for a day to their native Bigali…

Oh how they dreamed about it!

Grandpa, leaving his Motherland, even gave a local Pole some money so that he would preserve for him the sawmill (which he bought before the War) in the wood there.

They were travelling to the Soviet Ukraine by train through the border town of Rawa-Ruska. The documents indicated the final destination — the village Borschovychi in Lviv region. But, as my grandfather said, “drunken Soviet Railways” messed up everything and brought them to Borschiv in Ternopil region. (An important boss explained simply, “The names sound alike, so only the devil could tell them apart”). Who knows, perhaps the devil could also have maintained in those times at least some order.

By the way, at that time for two families they used to give a separate railway carriage. Livestock (horses, cows, goats, etc.) was also transported in separate carriages, so people could take along some of the implements that a farmer in every state always appreciated. Later, when the resettlement was called Operation “Visla”, Ukrainians were leaving Poland in horse carts, and almost  without personal belongings. Interestingly, my grandfather remembered that this particular  idea of moving was given by his friend — a Pole, who explained it like this, “Fedir, get out of here. For your family will be killed. Either by our AK or by your UPA”. And in the family, as I have already mentioned, there were six children. How could my grandfather not have listened to  that advice!

On the other hand, how prudent and reliable grandfather's Polish friend was! You can now say that to an average Pole, like to an ordinary Ukrainian, both, AK and UPA were equally dangerous. So here is the first question to the present Polish politicians and our Ukrainophobes: “Ladies and gentlemen, who appointed   you to provoke quarrels between Ukrainians and Poles? And why?  Who considers it profitable?“.

We do know the answers to these questions.

As long as there are graves - there is memory, if the memory disappears we will  forget our rootsAs long as there are graves - there is memory, if the memory disappears we will  forget our roots
As long as there are graves - there is memory, if the memory disappears we will  forget our roots. Photographs by V.Hvozd

My father remembered many events from that time. For example, honoring his grandfather (my great grandfather ) – when a  gravestone was being erected on his grave in 1938. My father, then a teenager, made a mistake while  carving the inscription on the gravestone (a cross of white sandstone). In the word “lies” he missed a letter.  How could the then 10 year old Ivantsyo (as my father was called by family) predict that this mistake of his would become a symbol for the coming decades. Would become and… disappear.

In fact, during our first visit to that land, with the above mentioned mistake as a  landmark, we found this grave at the village cemetery perched between the forest and the road near the village church. All in all, there were quite  a few 19th- 20th centuries grave monuments of the Sokolovskyis with  Ukrainian inscriptions on them. Indeed, Ukrainian graves made majority there, so Bigali obviously used to be Ukrainian. For a long time, mind you, at least for  a few centuries.

This my journey to father's village was in 1988, during the Soviet era, when granddad Ivan and his 34-year-old son (ie me) and his 10-year-old grandson Oleg (my son) visited the  village Bigali for the  first time  since the eviction in 1945. I remember my great grandfather's  grave, sandy soil and white sandstone, of which the gravestone was made. Such graves were the majority at the cemetery.

We were travelling by a "Zaporozhets". All night we stood near the Checkpoint on the border in the car queue. In the morning, heading to Bigali, we stopped to ask a 60 year old passer-by about the road to our village. Here was the first surprise: my father's question in Polish the man answered in the local Ukrainian dialect. He was Ukrainian!

The church in Bigali
The church in Bigali. Photographs by V.Hvozd

After the cemetery we visited the Roman Catholic church into which our Greek Catholic Church had been converted. Next to  it was  my father's classmate's  house which we visited and father was able to recall his school years. This woman while at Primary school was a relatively massive girl, so often  detained  energetic boys from fighting.

Then we went to the village. Father showed where his native house (burnt by the Polish in  1945, immediately after Fedir Sokolovsky's family's eviction), had stood.

 

 

Two Sokolovskyis
Two Sokolovskyis. Photographs by V.Hvozd

We met a Pole Volodymyr Sokolovsky (maybe even some family). His children, then teenagers, gave gifts for my wife Lida - cloth-bolts. Obviously, they knew that in Lviv everything was a deficite. Those who could  travel abroad  often brought such cloth-bolts from there.

…The second time I got to Bigali 10 years later, in the spring of 1998, together with my wife Lida. At the time I was working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine as the Head of the Department of International Economic and Scientific Cooperation. Once I came to Lviv for the weekend  and we decided to visit the cemetery in Bigali. I was driving my “Ford”, purchased in Germany during my diplomatic service there. On the border we did not stand — with my diplomatic passport we did not have to queue.

Ukrainian anonymous graves
Ukrainian anonymous graves.
Photographs by V.Hvozd

…We very quickly found the grave with the mistake in the inscription. There were other our family's graves. But then we noticed that the inscriptions on gravestones of our family had been recently damaged by someone. Already then I thought that in such a way was  demonstrated contempt for Ukrainians (both, buried and alive ones). It all had to do — I thought to myself — with our memories and history! It did not fit into the spirit of good neighborliness, which President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and President of Poland Alexander Kwasniewski were building. About this I even told the Ambassador of Poland to Ukraine, with whom I maintained a good relationship. But he tried to reassure me, explained everything by domestic reasons. And I then tried to forget about everything. Although, admittedly, sometimes I was drilled by a thought: what is it that presidents think in their own  way, while  the people — in their own way?

At that time Bigali, especially family graves, were visited by my father's  brothers — now   late Mykhailo  and Volodymyr.

The broken inscriptions had  not been mentioned ever since.

The village Shchutkiv today. Here once stood the grandfather's home
The village Shchutkiv today. Here once stood the grandfather's home.
Photographs by V.Hvozd

For the third time I visited Bigali on the 2nd of September 2013, together with  General Victor Hvozd, a former Chief of the Ukrainian Military Intelligence. By the way, his father originated from the neighboring village Shchutkiv (my granny seems to have been  calling it Shchytkiv). There we found two senior men who remembered both, Hvozd's grandfather-carpenter, and his father. They showed us where the house of “Hvozdyks”, —  as they called the Hvozds,—was. By the way, they told us that while laying the foundation of the house of the Hvozds, there was found a bottle with a note saying that the house was built on the site of the  old house, which belonged to... the Sokolovskyis.

Ukrainian graves in the village of Shchutkiv
Ukrainian graves in the village of Shchutkiv.
Photographs by V.Hvozd

 

 

At the Shchutkiv cemetery there are (so far?) many gravestones with Ukrainian inscriptions. Among them there are at least 5 - 7 graves of Sokolowskyis. Family? Who can tell me today?

From Schutkiv we drove to Bigali, close to the spot where my grandfather Sokolovskyi Fedir's house once stood. There, after asking neighbors, we found Volodymyr  Sokolovskyi, who is very old, but remembers my grandfather prerfectly well. He remembered the nickname “Stolyarchyk“ — so was called my grandfather, who was a carpenter (”stolyar” in Ukrainian). Mister Fedir's wife died, and his children who once gave gifts for my wife, live in Liubach. In the yard there are many traces of cars: it is clear that grandchildren here are frequent visitors. In general, the man  is really old and about many things could not tell us.

Ukrainian graves are getting fewer, their place being taken by  Polish ones
Ukrainian graves are getting fewer, their place being taken by  Polish ones.
 
Photographs by V.Hvozd

We went to the village cemetery. And here I stood shocked: firstly, I did not find not only the graves of my ancestors, but in general not a single Ukrainian burial (there is only a gravestone of the  Sokolovskyis — Poles), and secondly, the few old Ukrainian gravestones -crosses were  lonely huddling near the fence.  Whom they belonged to is unknown now — all the inscriptions are gone.

In general, the cemetery is looked after. There are many expensive Polish granite monuments at it. Actually, it looks like there have never been any Ukrainian graves there. But it is not true! Bigali is a Ukrainian village. At least, it had been before the forced eviction of indigenous Ukrainians in 1940s.  So our people had been buried there for more than one or two centuries!

So there arise specific questions to the Poles. In particular, was it by accident that in 1998 the gravestones-crosses of my Ukrainian family were smashed? Was it not intentionally conducted by someone  as preparation for  throwing these crosses away from the cemetery as junk? And could the Pole, who told my grandfather in 1945 about the similarities of the AK and  UPA, be one of the last reasonable people? And why is the question about the UPA now being discussed in the Polish Sejm, but that about the AK is being pointedly silenced? Finally, do the politicians who care about Bigali not know that  to destroy graves is  not Christian-like? That this way they support those who sow hatred between Ukrainians and Poles — because before 1937 our people had lived peacefully together! So what now- should Ukrainians  destroy old Polish burials in Volyn, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian lands? Does it mean that in Poland this way Ukrainian memory of centuries is being erased, while in Ukraine it is being honored and preserved? After all, whether we like it or not, but witnesses of those burials will soon leave completely for another world. And nothing will remind anybody of the fact that villages in Nadsyannya were mostly Ukrainian. There are no graves — there were no Ukrainians there! Nothing will be attracting  me to Bigali.

We need to know and remember our roots
We need to know and remember our roots.
Photographs by V.Hvozd

Do you, Poles, really believe that destruction of Ukrainian graves helps your Europeanization? The next perhaps will be Germans, many of whom had lived in East Prussia, now also belonging to Poland. Is it still scary to do to German graves what has been done to Ukrainian ones? I wish I could ask your late president L. Kaczyński, from whose hands I received an Order. But I will never be able to do this. It could be interesting to hear his explanations.

At the same time, I have many questions to the Ukrainian side too. And above all — to myself: why we, descendants of immigrants, so rarely visited the home of our ancestors and thus created the legal basis for the elimination of Ukrainian graves? We do not respect ourselves, yet we want someone else to care about our history? And what does our government do? Are there no Ukrainians at all on those lands now? Why in Volyn, Lviv region or anywhere else in Ukraine and Poland, along with Polish imperial “They were killed by UPA” have not been erected Ukrainian monuments like “They were killed by AK“?

Such “why” could be asked forever. But it all comes down to the obvious: we must respect and honor ourselves. Then we may demand this from neighbors!