Dawid Zieliński

Lasting Grievance

In 1947 Polish communist authorities carried out Operation Vistula – a forced resettlement of Ukrainian population (including Lemko and Boyko ethnic groups) from south-eastern Poland to so-called Recovered territories in the west and north-east, which were part of Germany before the war.

70 years later Operation Vistula continues to spark controversy and split opinions, often straining relations between the neighbouring countries. For some it was a “raison d'etat “, a necessary evil to eradicate support and assistance for Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which was fighting against newly formed Polish authorities. Others see it as ethnic cleansing with disastrous effects, leaving scars and lasting resentments among members of Ukrainian communities.The fact is that as many as 150 000 people were driven from their homes, where they lived for generations, their houses often burned, belongings robbed. In Beskid Niski and Bieszczady mountain valleys where displacement took place remain uninhabited to this day.

Sense of loss and grievance follows the resettled to this day, broken family and community ties are much like still open wounds and the recovery is slow. Tragically, their fate is echoed in post war population movements. As borders were redrawn after World War II, they were settled on someone else's land, moved into someone else's home and started from scratch, holding on to their identity in somewhat unfamiliar landscape.


Ludwik Smotrycki, born 1926, originally from Stara Bircza village, resettled in 1947 during Operation Vistula, photographed at his home in Osiek, Poland.

Landscape outside Wólka Tarnowska village, Poland. Entire Ukrainian population of the village was resettled during Operation Vistula.

Maria Potrapeluk, originally from Wólka Tarnowska, today a resident of Skowrony village, Poland.

A religious painting (the larger one, on the top) was the only thing Maria Potrapeluk was allowed to take with her when she was driven out of her home in Wólka Tarnowska in 1947.

Aleksander Buszowiecki, born 1944, resettled from Jaworzec village, today a resident of Lesiska village, Poland.

View of the Bieszczady Mountains, from Jaworzec village to the other side of the valley where village of Lug used to be. Both villages were resettled during Operation Vistula.

Michał Kogut, resettled from Radawa, now a resident of Osiek village, Poland.

Remains of the Orthodox cementery and an old orchard, with trees in full blossom, are the only tangible remainders of human presence in the vicinity of Jasiel village, Poland. Entire area's population was resettled during Operation Vistula.

An old German cementery overgrown with ivy.

Władysław Rewak recollecting difficult reality and hostile attitudes that members of Lemko community faced from Polish neighbours after being resettled.

Local members of Lemko community gather in Wysokie village, Poland, during ceremony commemorating 70th anniversary of Operation Vistula.

Church bell made out of Wolrd War II ordnance. Difficult living conditions and shortages in postwar reality pushed people's resourcefulness. The bell is no longer used.

Sunset over a meadow near Michałów village. The displaced during 1947 Vistula Operation were often forced to settle in remote areas called Colonies, where houses were dispersed across large area.

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