Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 22.10.2017
70 years ago, on 21 October 1947, the Russian occupation regime in Ukraine started a massive operation to deport Ukrainians to Siberia. The dictator Stalin directed his secret police, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), to round up people in western Ukraine because they were sympathetic to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and its fight for an independent Ukraine. Their property was stolen from them: their land, their houses, and their possessions. In one day, the NKVD sent into slave labour 26,682 families or 76,192 individual Ukrainians. The Russian occupiers of Ukraine called their crime against humanity “Operation West” – a code name that was ironically also used in 2017 for Russia’s military mobilization in Belarus.
“Operation West” was intended to snuff out support for the UPA. In 1947, Red Army and NKVD forces of the Russian occupiers were taking severe losses to the UPA. Stalin’s escalation of brutality against the Ukrainian people in 1947 forced the armed struggle of the UPA to turn to guerrilla warfare. Like the Holodomor of 1932-33, “Operation West” had the effect of depopulating the land of many of its native Ukrainian sons and daughters. They were replaced by “Soviet” types amenable to carrying out the Russian colonial project in Ukraine. Years afterwards, especially during the so-called “Khrushchev Thaw” after the death of Stalin, many of the deportees returned to Ukraine. Although dispossessed, Ukraine was their home, and it was better to be a collective farm worker there than in Siberia.
This crime against the Ukrainian people affected my own family, although I did not know it until a few years ago. My first cousin, once removed, was a fighter in the UPA. In 1947 he was 23 years old. He was beyond the reach of the Russian occupiers, but his parents and younger brother (17 years old in 1947) were not. The family of three was deported to Siberia in “Operation West.” The family land was stolen and incorporated into a collective farm. The family home was stolen and “sold” to someone else. They spent 13 years as slave labourers in Siberia, before returning to the village in Lviv region. Before the 1944 invasion of western Ukraine by Russia, my family in Lviv region were self-sufficient “agricoles” (farmers). Now they were reduced to being collective farm workers on land that had once been their own. The Russian occupiers of Ukraine did this to them – cloaking the reality of their colonial oppression with the fakery of Marxist-Leninism.
My cousin who was a soldier in the UPA continued in the underground struggle until 1955. He was arrested by the Russian occupiers and charged with criminal offences. The Muscovites didn’t want to admit the truth that the UPA was fighting a political battle for Ukrainian independence. He served six years in prison before being released in the “Khrushchev Thaw.” Sadly, he did not live long enough to see the renewal of Ukraine’s independence in 1991. He did see the emergence of the “Rukh” civil-political movement in Ukraine, and flew the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag at a time when it was still proscribed.
My great-aunt (on the photo) lived through the upheavals of world-historical events in the twentieth century in Ukraine. Without leaving her home village, she was born and grew up in Austria-Hungary and then was married and started a family in Poland. Then the Russians invaded in 1939 (as the Soviet Union), followed by the Nazi German invaders in 1941, followed by the Russian invaders again in 1944. My great-aunt was deported in 1947, and was a slave labourer for 13 years in Siberia. She returned to the village in western Ukraine in 1960, and lived there the rest of her life. She died at the end of 1991. Therefore, she lived to see three episodes of Ukrainian independence: 1917, 1941, and 1991.
The Russian occupiers of Ukraine committed a terrible crime with the 1947 deportations known as “Operation West.” Stealing from people and forcing them into slavery is a crime, and the agents of the Russian colonial power committed that crime. But the actions of the Muscovy invaders and occupiers of Ukraine did not change who Ukrainians were as a people. My great-aunt and her family were typical. They were proud and stubborn. They kept their determination to build an independent Ukraine when that was proscribed. They kept their Greek Catholic faith when that was banned. They kept their Ukrainian language when that was deprecated.
Since 2014, the Russians are invading and occupying parts of Ukraine again. Once again, the Russians are dispossessing people of their property (stealing factories and coal from Donbas, for example), arresting them summarily (Crimean Tatar leaders, for example), and deporting them to Russia (Ukrainian activists and patriots kept as hostages, for example). Ukrainians know the evil that the Muscovy invader-occupiers are capable of – the 70th anniversary of the “Operation West” deportations are a reminder. The lesson is crystal clear: only liberation from Russian occupation can stop crimes against humanity, whether they are the crimes of Stalin in 1947 or of Putin in 2017.