The speaker of Ukraine’s parliament has offered words of reconciliation over World War II mass killings that have strained relations with its neighbor and strategic ally Poland for 80 years
WARSAW, Poland – The speaker of Ukraine’s parliament offered words Thursday of reconciliation over World War II mass killings that have strained relations with its neighbor and strategic ally Poland for 80 years.
“Human life has the same value, regardless of nationality, race, gender or religion,” Ruslan Stefanchuk told Polish lawmakers. “With this awareness, we will cooperate with you, dear Polish friends, and we will accept the truth, however uncompromising it may be.”
Stefanchuk’s words struck a new note and contrasted with the recent angry reaction of Ukraine’s ambassador to Polish expectations of an apology.
Poland marks this year the 80th anniversary of the massacre of around 100,000 Poles in 1943-44 by Ukrainian nationalists and others in Volhynia and other regions that were then in eastern Poland under Nazi German occupation and are now part of Ukraine .
Entire villages were burned down and all their inhabitants killed by nationalists and their aides who tried to establish an independent Ukrainian state. Poland calls the events a genocide.
An estimated 15,000 Ukrainians died in retaliation.
Stefanchuk spoke in Poland’s parliament during a visit to Warsaw. Poland has offered military and humanitarian support to Ukraine in its war with Russia.
Stefanchuk thanked Poland for the current support and then offered sympathy to the families of the Poles killed in what is known as the Volhynia massacre. He also offered a joint effort to identify and honor all the victims buried in Ukraine.
Poland has long sought Kyiv’s permission for exhumations, identification and commemoration of the Polish victims. However, some of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders of the time are considered key figures of Ukrainian statehood, which gives the events a different perspective.
Stefanchuk thanked the victims’ families for cultivating a memory that “does not call for revenge or hatred, but serves as a warning that nothing like this can ever happen between our nations again.”
He said that identifying and honoring the victims “without prohibitions or barriers” is “our shared moral and Christian obligation.”
He said an open, shared approach to the painful history would be an “extraordinarily necessary test” that could pave the way for the words “we forgive and ask for forgiveness.” These words, offered by Poland’s Catholic bishops to Germany’s bishops in the 1960s, laid the foundation for Poland’s reconciliation with its World War II aggressor, Germany.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau described Stefanchuk’s speech as “very good”, saying that “we have heard what we wanted to hear.”
“We are on the right track and this speech shows that our positions are getting closer again. We have something to build on,” Rau said.
Poland’s leaders have insisted that, if brought to the full truth, it will strengthen bilateral relations with Ukraine and neutralize vulnerabilities that could be exploited by third countries seeking to undermine those ties.