Ukrainians in Poland: reflections of a checkered history
by Khristina Lew
Kyiv Press Bureau
WARSAW, Poland - In the 1990s, Ukrainians in Warsaw number a mere 1,000, but the Polish capital's checkered history of Ukrainian settlement is reflected in contemporary community life and activity.
Much of the Ukrainian community's activities are centered around the Association of Ukrainians in Poland, whose building on the right bank of the river Wisla in Warsaw houses numerous Ukrainian organizations, and Warsaw's one Ukrainian Catholic and two Polish Autocephalous Orthodox churches.
The Basilian Church and Monastery on Miodowa Street are located near Warsaw's Old City. Construction of the church began in 1781, and by 1810 the church had 710 Ukrainian parishioners. In 1876 the church was given to Orthodox faithful, but after the start of World War I it was returned to Catholics. It was destroyed during the Warsaw insurrection and rebuilt after the second world war.
Miroslaw Czech, a member of the Polish Sejm (Parliament), recalled that during the Soviet era, the Basilians were forced to celebrate divine liturgy in the Roman Catholic rite, in Polish. After 1956, with the Krushchev thaw, divine liturgy was celebrated in the Ukrainian rite, although the homily continued to be delivered in the Polish language. Only in the 1960s was the Ukrainian language used throughout the entire service.
Today the monastery on Miodowa Street is the largest such Basilian monastery in the world. It currently has 40 seminarians, studying Eastern-rite Catholicism, from Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic. After divine liturgy on Sundays, 30 children are provided Ukrainian language instruction there.
Across town is the Mary Magdalene Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and on the outskirts of Warsaw is St. John Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The majority of parishioners at both churches are Ukrainians, nonetheless Belarusians, Poles and Russians are included in their ranks. In 1948 the Patriarch of Moscow brought the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church under his jurisdiction, and today St. John's church almanac is published in the Ukrainian, Polish and Belarusian languages.
Behind St. John Church is a vast cemetery that dates back to tsarist times. The cemetery is dotted with gravestones inscribed in the Ukrainian and Polish languages, and in its far reaches lie soldiers of the army of the Ukrainian National Republic, who battled for Ukraine's independence in 1917-1920 and later escaped to Warsaw. The government in exile of the Ukrainian National Republic was located in Warsaw until 1923.
Since 1990, Warsaw's Ukrainians have come to this spot of the cemetery to commemorate the declaration of independence of the Ukrainian National Republic on January 22, 1918. Mr. Czech says that since 1992, representatives of Ukraine's Embassy to Poland have participated in those commemorations.
Warsaw has attracted Ukrainians since the early 19th century. In the 1920s and 1930s Warsaw become one of the centers of the Ukrainian political emigration with the fall of the Ukrainian National Republic. Mykhailo Hrushevsky, president of the UNR, stayed in Warsaw briefly in 1919, and the UNR's supreme otaman, Symon Petliura, lived there in 1920-1923.
During the second world war the Ukrainian community grew rapidly in Warsaw as Ukrainians escaped there from the advancing Soviet Army. After the war, the Ukrainian population dropped with mass emigration to the West.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 31, 1997, No. 35, Vol. LXV
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