Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 18.10.2017
Russia has been invading Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas for over three and a half years. As Ukraine defends itself against the foreign aggressor, behind the battlefront in the peaceful home front, Ukrainian historians and archaeologists are uncovering the buried secrets of a previous invasion and occupation of Ukraine by Russia.
Ukraine was briefly independent at the end of the First World War, but the young state lost wars to the Bolshevik Russians and to the Poles. Most of present-day Ukraine was occupied by Russia (as the Soviet Union) and the western part, Galicia and Volynia, were occupied by Poland. On 17 September 1939 Russia invaded Poland. Along with the rest of western Ukraine, the cities of Łuck (now Lutsk) and Stanisławów (now Ivano-Frankivsk) were annexed to the Soviet Union.
With the Russian invader-occupiers came the NKVD. The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) was the precursor of the Committee for State Security (KGB) which was the precursor of the Federal Security Service (FSB) – a security service and spy agency for Russia. The NKVD applied Russian state terrorism to newly-occupied Ukraine after Russia invaded Poland. Intellectuals, Ukrainian nationalists, priests and congregants of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – all were subject to harrassment, arrest, torture, and execution by the NKVD. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the NKVD implemented a campaign of mass murder, on the orders of Stalin, as they retreated.
Since the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-14, a longing to recover and to nurture national memory has inspired Ukrainians. While living witnesses still live to tell their stories, old sites of NKVD executions are being found and excavated. The past is coming to light. In Ivano-Frankivsk, scholars and researchers from a group called “Pamyat” (Memory) are excavating a grave site where the NKVD executed many Ukrainians. So far, the remains of at least 50 individuals have been found. The grave is shallow, and also contains remains of women’s and children’s clothing. “Pamyat” is waiting for official approval to do more excavations, and it is believed many more bodies will be found. Sadly, it is one small element of a large-scale pattern of planned extermination.
In Lutsk, the Volyn Regional State Administration and the Lutsk City Council funded excavations at the site of an NKVD prison where political prisoners were executed. In the summer of 2017, excavations revealed the remains of 107 individuals. Judging by shoes found and analysis of skulls, several women were executed as well. Eyewitnesses to the mass murders commited on 23-24 June 1941 say that between one and four thousand Ukrainians should be found in the burial pits.
These are just two of the sites of mass killings. Many more remain to be uncovered, and they will be. The NKVD murderers and their accomplices committed crimes against humanity. There is no statute of limitations for the crimes of Soviet Russian occupiers of Ukraine any more than there is for the crimes of Nazi German occupiers of Ukraine. Criminal proceedings have been instigated for mass murder committed by a totalitarian regime – namely, the Soviet Union. Ukraine is digging up the past and shining a light on an important truth. Ukraine never was so much a part of the Soviet Union as it was occupied by Russia under that name. The spirit of Ukrainian freedom and independence did not die, it was merely suppressed by campaign of Russian state terrorism and mass murder. Ukraine is literally uncovering the crimes of Russia from 76 years ago, and that shines a light on the crimes of Russia today as it is invading and occupying Ukraine once again.