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ARCHIVES  Danyliw Seminar 2016

Myroslav Shkandrij

University of Manitoba (Canada)

Myroslav Shkandrij is Professor of Slavic Studies in the Department of German and Slavic Studies at the University of Manitoba, Canada. He is the author of four books, including Ukrainian Nationalism: Politics, Ideology and Literature, 1929-1956
(Yale University Press, 2015) and Jews in Ukrainian Literature:
Representation and Identity
(Yale University Press, 2009).

PRESENTATION
DISCUSSION

Abstract

Volodymyr Viatrovych’s Second Polish-Ukrainian War

In 2012 Volodymyr Viatrovych published a controversial work on the Polish-Ukrainian conflict during the Second World War. The book was discussed in a special issue of Ab Imperio 1 (2012) for which Sofia Grachova, Ihor Iliushyn, Grzegorz Motyka, Per Anders Rudling and Andrzej Zemba offered reviews. The proposed presentation offers an analysis of the book in the light of the critical commentary it has caused. The main criticisms of the text have focused on its biased presentation of facts. Scholars have complained about the lack of discussion concerning the Holocaust, the refusal to admit that the OUN(b) and UPA took a decision to begin the destruction of Poles in Volhynia in 1943, the insistence that there was an equivalence between the killing of Poles in Volhynia and the killing of Ukrainians, the reluctance to recognize the guilt of Ukrainians in conducting the massacres, the desire to conflate the Ukrainian national liberation struggle with the OUN(b), and the silence concerning the OUN’s political program in the 1930s and early 1940s.

 

Often these criticisms have been contextualized as part of an attempt to create heroes out of the OUN and the UPA during President Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency (2005-2010). The latter created the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory (2006) and appointed Viatrovych as head of the security service’s archives (HDASBU). In this capacity Viatrovych is said to have used his access to materials in order to construct a case, while simultaneously ignoring or downplaying other documentation that portrayed matters in a different light. The book attempted to refocus the wartime Polish-Ukrainian conflict by placing it within a wider context, one that included the earlier war of 1918-19 and the interwar period. It also brought renewed attention to the events in Chełm/Kholm in the years  1942-47 and to Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisła) in the immediate postwar years.

 

The book also brought to light previously unknown archival documents and attempted to integrate these into a narrative that challenged, in particular, the idea that the conflict in Volhynia was a genocide. Viatrovych also highlighted atrocities that had taken place on the Polish side and the biased presentation of these events in the Polish media. Viatrovych’s arguments are occasionally illuminating, as even some of his strongest critics have pointed out, but they also reveal a strong desire to present the OUN as a liberation force and to ignore any argument that contradict such a stance. As such, the book represents a contemporary defence of the OUN(b) policy and practice. An analysis of the book’s argumentation reveals a particular strategy. First, the acts of violence are not denied (the author brings to light many shocking incidents), but they are framed as the inevitable consequence of war and liberation struggle. Second, the author’s use of facts distorts, minimizes or obscures assessments made by a number of prominent historians, such as Timothy Snyder and Jan T. Gross, by the leading Polish scholar in the field Grzegorz Motyka, and by prominent Ukrainian historians like Ihor Iliushyn and Olesandr Zaitsev. These aspects of the book have caused the greatest controversies.