Poland marks Volhynia Massacre anniversary

Mateusz Marek/PAP

A ceremony in front of Warsaw's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Saturday marked the 77th anniversary of the 1943-45 Volhynia Massacre in which Ukrainian nationalists killed about 100,000 Polish nationals in the regions of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia (pre WW2 eastern Poland).

Instituted in 2016 as the National Day of Remembrance of the massacre of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists during WWII, the Volhynia Massacre anniversary is held on July 11 in memory of the so-called Volhynia Bloody Sunday (July 11 1943), when Ukrainian nationalist militants attacked about a hundred Polish villages in what is held to have been the peak of the massacre.

Attending the ceremony among others were delegates from the President's Office, Deputy Sejm (lower house) Speaker Malgorzata Gosiewska, head of the Prime Minister's Office Michal Dworczyk, Culture Minister Piotr Glinski and former Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz. Also present were World War II veterans.

The commemorations were preceded by a mass for the massacre victims in Warsaw's military cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Michal Janocha.

In 1943-45 the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), co-founded by Ukrainian national hero Stepan Bandera with his Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists faction, mass-slaughtered 35,000–60,000 Polish nationals in the then eastern-Polish region of Volhynia, and 25,000–40,000 in nearby Eastern Galicia. The purge, aimed to cleanse the areas of their Polish population, became known as the Volhynia Massacre. Its full victim count is still debated.

The culmination of the massacre fell on Sunday, June 11 1943, today known as the Volhynian Bloody Sunday. On that day Ukrainian Insurgent Army units aided by the local Ukrainian population launched a simultaneous attack on around a hundred Polish settlements in Volhynia. The well-organised attack targeted people gathered for Sunday mass in Catholic churches.

Historians say around 100,000 Polish nationals were killed in the massacre. According to Poland's National Remembrance Institute, some 10,000-12,000 Ukrainians were murdered during Polish retaliatory operations by the spring of 1945.