The code name of the military operation, by Polish military and security units (April 28 to July 21, 1947), that resulted in the deportation of 150,000 Ukrainians from their autochthonous territories (the Lemko region, Sian region, and Kholm region) in southeastern Poland to Poland’s ‘regained territories’ (Ziemie Odzyskane), newly acquired from Germany, in the north and northwest.

Officially the purpose of Operation Wisla was to destroy Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) units active in the Lemko region, as well as to deprive them of a base of support among the local population. On April 17, 1947 the Polish State Committee on Public Security issued an order for the implementation of Akcja “Wisla”, and it was sanctioned by a decree of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers of Poland dated 24 April 1947.

Most Polish sources claim the decision was provoked by the death of Gen K. Swierczewski, the Polish deputy minister of defense, in a UPA ambush on March 28, 1947. In reality, it had been prepared well in advance, and represented the last of several measures taken by the Soviet and Polish authorities during and after the Second World War to ‘solve’ Poland’s ‘Ukrainian problem.’ Earlier, on the basis of a Soviet-Polish agreement, signed on September 19, 1944, to ‘repatriate’ Poles in the Ukrainian SSR and Ukrainians in Poland, almost half a million Ukrainians in Poland had been resettled in the Ukrainian SSR.

Gen S. Mossor headed Operational Group Wisla, which included approx 20,000 regular Polish troops, as well as internal security troops, members of the militia, and armed civilians. The principle of collective responsibility was applied, and all Ukrainians in the affected territories, regardless of their political views and affiliations, were deported. The deportation process was swift and brutal: deportees were often given only a few hours to prepare themselves, could take only limited belongings, and were transported to their destination in crowded boxcars. The food supply was irregular, sanitary conditions were poor, there were many delays en route, and the deportation process was accompanied by considerable violence. Some deportees died in transit; those who resisted deportation, or were suspected of aiding the UPA, were imprisoned in the Jaworzno prison camp in Silesia .

The deportees were dispersed over a wide area, primarily in the provinces of Olsztyn , Szczecin , Wroclaw , and Gdansk . They were to constitute no more than 10 percent of the population in any one location, and the eventual goal of government policy was their assimilation into the Polish majority.

Living conditions were harsh, since the deportees were not properly compensated for their lost property, and the best land and buildings in the ‘regained territories’ were already occupied by Poles who had been ‘repatriated’ from Soviet-occupied Western Ukraine ( Galicia and Volhynia).

Operation Wisla succeeded in atomizing the Ukrainian community in postwar Poland , and the existence of the community was not recognized by the Polish government until 1956, when limited organizational activity was permitted. Before 1957, deportees who tried to return home were imprisoned in the Jaworzno prison camp, and after 1957, only a few thousand were allowed to resettle in their ancestral homeland. Attempts to attract Polish settlers to that area were largely unsuccessful. The Lemko region continues to be underpopulated, and many distinctive Ukrainian wooden churches and other cultural monuments have been vandalized or destroyed or have fallen into disrepair.

Source: Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Shevchenko Scientific Society

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