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On the basis of a secret clause of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, capturing the eastern borderland provinces of Poland with little opposition. Lwów, present day Lviv, the principal city and cultural center of the region of Galicia, was captured and occupied by September 22. These provinces were inhabited by an ethnically mixed population, with ethnic Ukrainians dominant in rural areas, and Poles dominant in the cities. They now form the backbone of modern Western Ukraine.

In June 1940, the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Romania, demanding the ceding of Northern Bukovina, a region with a large ethnic Ukrainian population.

The annexation of these territories, which were added to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, resulted in the that state gaining 50,600 square miles (130,000 km2), and increasing its population by over seven million people.[1][2]

Annexation of Polish territory

A Sovietization propaganda poster addressed to the Western Ukrainian population. The Ukrainian text reads: "Electors of the working people! Vote for the joining of Western Ukraine with Soviet Ukraine, for a united, free and thriving Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Let's forever eliminate the border between Western and Soviet Ukraine. Long Live the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic!"

On September 17, 1939 the Red Army entered Polish territory, acting on the basis of a secret clause of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Soviet Union would later deny the existence of this secret protocol, claiming that it was never allied with the German Reich, and acted independently to "protect" the Ukrainian and White Ruthenian (modern Belarusian) minorities in the disintegrating Polish state.[3] Composed of mostly ethnic Ukrainian Soviet troops under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, the Soviet forces occupied the eastern areas of Poland within 12 days, capturing the regions of Galicia and Volhynia with little Polish opposition, and occupying the principal city, Lwów, by September 22.

A Soviet propaganda poster depicting the Red Army's advance into Kresy as a liberation of the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian text reads: "We stretched our hand to our brothers so that they could straighten their backs and throw off the despised rule of the whips that lasted for centuries." The person thrown off the peasants' backs, shown wearing a Polish military uniform and holding the whip, could be interpreted as a caricature of Piłsudski.

Due to Polish government's discrimination against the Ukrainian minority during the interbellum, these troops were sometimes greeted with genuine joy by Ukrainian villagers,[1] In other cases, support demonstrations were staged by pro-Soviet militias.[4] Not all Ukrainians, however, trusted the Soviet regime responsible for the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–1933.[5] In practice, the poor generally welcomed the Soviets, while the elites tended to join the opposition, despite supporting the unification of Ukraine.[4][6]

Immediately after entering Poland's territory, the Soviet army helped to set up "provisional administrations" in the cities and "peasant committees" in the villages in order to organize one-list elections to the new "People's Assembly of Western Ukraine". The elections were designed to give the annexation an appearance of validity, but were far from free or fair. The voters had a choice of only one candidate, often a local communist or someone sent to western Ukraine from Sоviet Ukraine [7] for each position of deputy; the communist party commissars then provided the assembly with resolutions that would push through nationalization of banks and heavy industry and transfers of land to peasant communities.[8] Elections took place on October 22, 1939; the official numbers reported participation of 93 percent of the electorate, 91 percent of whom supported the appointed candidates. Based on these results, the People's Assembly of Western Ukraine, headed by Kyryl Studynsky (a prominent academic and figure in the Christian Social Movement), consisted of 1,484 deputies. They met in Lwów on October 26–28, where they were addressed by Nikita Khrushchev and other representatives of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The assembly voted unanimously to thank Stalin for liberation and sent a delegation headed by Studynsky to Moscow to ask for formal inclusion of the territories into the Ukrainian SSR. The Supreme Soviet voted to do so on November 1, 1939 and on November 15 a law was passed making the former eastern Polish territories a part of the Ukrainian SSR.[1]

Annexation of Romanian territory

On June 26, 1940, Soviet People's Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov presented an ultimatum note to Gheorghe Davidescu, Romanian ambassador to Moscow, in which the Soviet Union demanded the evacuation of the Romanian military and administration from Bessarabia and from the northern part of Bukovina within 24 hours,[9][10][11] The Soviet government demanded the northern part of Bukovina as a "minor reparation for the great loss inflicted to the Soviet Union and Bessarabia's population by 22 years of Romanian domination of Bessarabia", and because its "[...] fate is linked mainly with the Soviet Ukraine by the community of its historical fate, and by the community of language and ethnic composition". Northern Bukovina has had some historical connections with Galicia, which was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939, in the sense that both were part of Austria-Hungary from the second part of the 18th century until 1918. Also, unlike Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina had a Ukrainian majority.[12] Romania promptly agreed to withdraw from the territories, to avoid a full scale military conflict. The majority of the territories were turned into the Moldavian SSR, a constituent republic of the USSR.

Soviet policies in the annexed territories

Government and administration

The lands annexed by the Soviet Union were administratively reorganized into six oblasts similar to those in the rest of the Soviet Union (Drohobych Oblast, Lviv Oblast, Rivne Oblast, Stanislav (later known as Ivano-Frankivsk) Oblast, Tarnopil Oblast and Volyn Oblast). The civilian administration in those regions annexed from Poland was organized by December 1939 and was drawn mostly from newcomers from eastern Ukraine and Russia; only 20% of government employees were from the local population. It was falsely assumed by many Ukrainians that a disproportionate number of people working for the Soviet administration came from within the Jewish community. The reason for this belief was that most of the previous Polish administrators were deported, and the local Ukrainian intelligentsia who could have taken their place were generally deemed to be too nationalistic for such work by the Soviets. In reality, most positions were staffed by ethnic Ukrainians from the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, in the eyes of many Ukrainians the Jews came to be associated with Soviet rule, which contributed to rising anti-Jewish sentiments.[13] The Polish language was eliminated from public life, and Ukrainian became the language of the government and the courts.[1] All Polish institutions were abolished, and all Polish officials, civil servants, and police were deported to Siberia or Central Asia.[14] Polish civilians, who had made up the majority of the population of Lwów and in other urban areas, were deported in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement at the end of the war. At this point, the city reverted to its Ukrainian name, Lviv. Ukrainian settlers from Eastern Ukraine would take the place of the former Polish inhabitants.

Ukrainian organizations not controlled by the Soviets were limited or abolished. Hundreds of credit unions and cooperatives that had served the Ukrainian people between the wars were shut down. All local Ukrainian political parties were abolished, and between 20,000 to 30,000 Ukrainian activists, fled to German-occupied territory; most of those who did not escape were arrested. For example, Dr. Dmytro Levitsky, former head of the moderate Ukrainian political party Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance (UNDO) that had dominated Ukrainian political life between the world wars, and chief of the Ukrainian delegation in the pre-war Polish parliament, was arrested alongside many of his colleagues, deported to Moscow, and never heard from again.[15] The elimination of the individuals, organizations and parties that represented moderate or liberal political tendencies left the extremist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which operated in the underground, as the only political party with a significant organizational presence left in western Ukraine.[1][2]

Education and healthcare

Pro-Soviet caricatures published in Polish language in Lvov in September 1940, ridiculing "enemies of the state" – Polish businessmen, army officers and aristocracy.

The University of Lviv

Due to the sensitive location of western Ukraine along the border with German-held territory, the Soviet administration made attempts, initially, to gain the loyalty and respect of the Ukrainian population. Healthcare, especially in the villages, was improved dramatically.[2] Between the two world wars Poland had drastically reduced the number of Ukrainian-language schools while Romania had eliminated them completely.[14] These were now reopened and, although the Russian language became a mandatory foreign-language course, the schools were taught in Ukrainian. Ukrainian was reintroduced in the University of Lviv (where the Polish government had banished it during the interwar years), which became thoroughly Ukrainized [1] and renamed after Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko. The Soviet authorities established a branch of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Lviv, and some leading non-Communist Ukrainian scholars were invited to staff these institutions.[14] University students from Eastern Ukraine were brought to Lviv and western Ukrainian students, professors, and other cultural figures were sent on Soviet-funded trips to Kiev. An unintended result of such exchanges was that the Galician youth were disagreeably surprised by the material poverty and widespread use of the Russian language in Soviet Ukraine, while the incoming students to western Ukraine became exposed to and sometimes came to adopt western Ukrainian nationalism.[16] In contrast to the dramatic expansion of educational opportunities within the Soviet system, non-Soviet controlled educational institutions such as the popular Prosvita society reading rooms, the Shevchenko Scientific Society, libraries and community theaters, and the Russophile Stauropegion Institute were closed or abolished.

Land reform

In the annexed territories, over 50 percent of the land had belonged to Polish or Romanian landlords while approximately 75% of the Ukrainian peasants owned less than two hectares of land per household. Starting in 1939 lands not owned by the peasants were seized and slightly less than half of them were distributed to landless peasants free of charge; the rest were given to new collective farms.[1] The Soviet authorities then began taking land from the peasants themselves and turning it over to collective farms, which affected 13% of western Ukrainian farmland by 1941. This caused the peasants to turn against the Soviet regime.[2]

Religious persecution


Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

At the time of the Soviet annexation of western Ukraine the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had approximately 2,190 parishes, three theological seminaries, 29 monasteries, 120 convents and 3.5 million faithful.[17] Its leader, Andrey Sheptytsky, was seen as a "father figure" by most Western Ukrainians.[17] The married Western Ukrainian Clergy and their children formed a caste that had a high degree of influence within Ukrainian society.[18] Using his moral influence, Sheptytsky persuaded all but approximately 100 of the Ukrainian Catholic priests in western Ukrainian to stay with their flock in western Ukraine rather than flee from the Soviet regime. Due to its immense popularity, as well as that of Sheptytsky, among the western Ukrainian people, the Soviet Union did not attempt to abolish the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church nor persecute its leader at that time. Instead, it sought to limit the Church's influence by banishing its presence from schools, preventing it from printing (20 Ukrainian Catholic journals or newspapers were shut down), confiscating lands from which it derived income, closing monasteries and seminaries, levying high taxes, and introducing anti-religious propaganda into schools and the media.[2][14] The Soviets also attempted to undermine the Church from within. A prominent Lviv priest and close confidante of Andrey Sheptytsky,[14] Havriil Kostelnyk, who had been the principal critic of the Vatican's Latinization policies and spokesperson for the "Easternizing" trend within the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was asked to organize a "National" Greek Catholic Church, with Soviet support, that would be independent of the Vatican and which would split the faithful in western Ukraine. At this time, he refused to cooperate, even after the autumn of 1940 when the Soviets arrested his youngest son in order to blackmail him.[17] (After Sheptytksy's death, however, Kostelnyk would play a significant role in the destruction of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church). Arrests, though not of a mass nature, were used in order to terrify the religious leaders. For example, in June 1940 the superior of the Studite convent in Lviv, Olena Viter, was imprisoned and tortured in order to "confess" that Sheptytsky was a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and that she was supplying him with weapons. She refused to do so. By the summer of 1941, in Western Ukraine 11 or 12 Greek Catholic priests were murdered or missing, and fifty-three were imprisoned or deported.[17]

Despite the various restrictions, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was left as the only remaining independent Ukrainian institution that operated openly in Ukrainian territory. Church attendance soared, and contemporary accounts described churches never having been as full as they became under Soviet rule, with long lines forming in front of confessional booths. The western Ukrainian people attempted to protect their Church from Soviet restrictions. Peasants, even among the poorest ones, were reluctant to accept land taken from the Church and offered to them, and as late as May 1940 some villages had not yet expropriated church lands, while others distributed much of it to priests' families. Priests made homeless were taken in by parishioners. Children, who no longer learned religion in school, obtained religious instruction privately.[17]

The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Volhynia faced similar restrictions to those of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; moreover it underwent pressure to subordinate itself to the Moscow Patriarch.[2] Many Orthodox priests fled the Soviet regime, resulting in a large number of newly consecrated priests who were not necessarily fit for their duties, weakening and demoralizing the Church somewhat. The Orthodox hierarchs in western Ukraine were left alone, however.[19]

Deportations and demographic changes

Initially, the Soviet authorities deported primarily political figures as well as all Polish officials, civil servants, police, and Polish citizens who had fled from the Germans. The exact number of Poles deported to Siberia or Central Asia between 1939 and 1941 remains unknown, and has been estimated at from under 500,000 to over 1,500,000;[14][20] about 350,000 of whom died.[21] With the opening of the Soviet secret archives after 1989, the lower range of these estimates has emerged as closer to the truth. In August 2009, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion, the authoritative Polish Institute of National Remembrance announced that its researchers reduced the estimate of the number of people deported to Siberia from one million to 320,000, and estimated that 150,000 Polish citizens perished under Soviet rule during the war.[22] In Bukovina, in accordance with the agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany, most of the region's large German minority was repatriated. The German consul also evacuated many local Ukrainian leaders and Orthodox priests, many of whom subsequently joined the Melnyk branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists abroad. Tens of thousands of German-speaking people from Volhynia were also moved to German-controlled territory.[16]

In April 1940 the Soviet authorities in the annexed territories began to extend their repressive measures towards the general Ukrainian population. This coincided with the removal of Soviet troops of ethnic Ukrainian origin, who had become too friendly with local Ukrainians, and their replacement by soldiers from Central Asia.[16] The Soviet authorities began arresting and deporting anyone suspected of disloyalty to the Soviet regime. In villages, people were denounced by their neighbors, some of whom were Communist sympathizers while others were opportunists. Deportations became indiscriminate, and people and their families were deported for "crimes" such as having relatives or visiting abroad, or visiting friends while the friends were arrested. Because many of those making denunciations were perceived to be Jews, anti-Jewish sentiments among the Ukrainian population increased.[2][14] Ultimately, between 1939 and the beginning of World War II approximately 500,000 Ukrainians would be deported to Siberia and central Asia.[14]

In addition to the loss of much of the native population, western Ukraine experienced an influx of other settlers. The population of Lwów increased from 318,000 to 450,000 during the Soviet administration, largely due to the influx of Polish refugees fleeing German territory and Soviet officials and their families. The latter group was estimated to number 100,000 people in Lviv. In Stanislaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk) the population grew by 40,000, 1,000 of whom were estimated to have been NKVD officers.[23] In addition, 100,000s of Jews fleeing Nazi terror in German-occupied Poland arrived in the territories newly annexed by the USSR.[24]


People, some of them in Ukrainian national dress, greeting Nazi Soldiers in 1941

On June 22, 1941 Operation Barbarossa began, and western Ukraine was captured within weeks. Prior to retreating, the Soviet authorities, unwilling to evacuate prisoners, chose to kill all inmates whether or not they had committed major or minor crimes and whether or not they were held for political reasons. Estimates of the number of people killed vary from 15,000 to 40,000.[14] Due to the brutality of the Soviet administration, many Ukrainians initially welcomed the German invasion.[14] On June 30, 1941, Ukrainian nationalist commandos under German command captured Lviv which had been evacuated by Soviet forces and declared an independent state allied with Nazi Germany. This movement was quashed by the Germans, who split up western Ukraine. Northern Bukovina was returned to Germany's ally, Romania. Galicia, which had once been part of Austria, was made part of the General Government together with occupied Poland, while Volhynia was split off and attached to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. All of these regions would be captured and reintegrated into Soviet Ukraine in 1944.

Importance for the Ukrainian statehood

The annexation of 1939 was an important event in the history of Ukraine, because it brought within one republic most of Ukrainian ethnic territories and unified previously separated Ukrainian populations. Thus the unified during this time Ukrainian SSR eventually achieved independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.[25]

Since 1654, when the tsars began steadily to extend their control over Ukraine, Ukrainians had lived in two distinct worlds: one ruled by the Russians and the other by Poles or Austrians. As a result of the Second World War, the East/West Ukrainian dichotomy finally ceased to exist, at least on the political level. The process of amalgamation—of unification of two long-separated branches of the Ukrainian people—was not only a major aspect of the post-war period, but an event of epochal significance in the history of Ukraine.

Orest Subtelny, a Canadian historian of Ukrainian descent


See also

  • Russian occupation of Eastern Galicia, 1914–1915


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopedia, Volume I (1963). Edited by Volodymyr Kubiyovych. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 831–833 and pp.872–874
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Orest Subtelny. (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 455–457.
  3. Anna M. Cienciala (2004). The Coming of the War and Eastern Europe in World War II (lecture notes, University of Kansas). Retrieved 15 March 2006.
  4. 4.0 4.1 (Polish) Marek Wierzbicki, Stosunki polsko-białoruskie pod okupacją sowiecką (1939–1941). "Białoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne", Biełaruski histaryczny zbornik, 20 (2003), p. 186–188. Retrieved 16 July 2007.
  5. Davies, Norman (1996). Europe: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820171-0.  pp. 1001–1003.
  6. Andrzej Nowak, The Russo-Polish Historical Confrontation, Sarmatian Review, January 1997, Volume XVII, Number 1. Retrieved 16 July 2007.
  7. Paul Robert Magocsi. (1983). Galicia: A historical Survey and Bibliographic Guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press pg. 207
  8. Rieber, Alfred Joseph (2000). Forced Migration in Central and Eastern Europe: 1939–1950. London, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-5132-X. , pp. 29–30.
  9. Research Divi Federal Research Division, Federal Research Division, Romania a Country Study: A Country Study, Kessinger Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1-4191-4531-2, Google Print, p.79
  10. (Russian)Ультимативная нота советского правительства румынскому правительству 26 июня 1940 г.
  11. Dov Levin, The Lesser of Two Evils: Eastern European Jewry Under Soviet Rule, 1939–1941, Jewish Publication Society, 1995, ISBN 0-8276-0518-8, Google Print, p.37
  12. Ukrainian Collaboration in the Extermination of the Jews during the Second World War: Sorting Out the Long-Term and Conjunctural Factors by John-Paul Himka, University of Alberta. Taken from The Fate of the European Jews, 1939–1945: Continuity or Contingency, ed. Jonathan Frankel (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), Studies in Contemporary Jewry 13 (1997): 170–189.
  13. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 14.7 14.8 14.9 Paul Robert Magocsi. (1996). A History of Ukraine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
  14. John Armstrong (1963). Ukrainian Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, pg. 65
  15. 16.0 16.1 16.2 John Armstrong (1963). Ukrainian Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 63–72
  16. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Bohdan Bociurkiw. (1989). Sheptytskyi and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Under the Soviet Occupation of 1939–1941, pp. 101–123. Taken from Morality and Reality: The Life and Times of Andrei Sheptytskyi, edited by Paul Robert Magocsi. Edmonton Canada: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta.
  17. Orest Subtelny. (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp.214–219.
  18. John Armstrong (1963). Ukrainian Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, pp.192–196
  19. Kushner, Tony; Knox, Katharine (1999). Refugees in an Age of Genocide. London, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-4783-7. , p.219
  20. Project In Posterum [1] (go to note on Polish Casualties by Tadeusz Piotrowski)
  21. "Polish experts lower nation's WWII death toll". AFP/Expatica. 30 July 2009. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
  22. Krakivski Visti, January 13, 1942 and Krakauer Zeitung, 1941. Cited in John Armstrong (1963). Ukrainian Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, pg. 68
  23. Timothy Snyder. (2010). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books, pg. 127
  24. Wilson, Andrew (1997). Ukrainian Nationalism in the 1990s: A Minority Faith. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57457-9.  p. 17.
  25. Subtelny, p. 487.

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