WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Hundreds of Poles prayed Sunday for victims of World War II-era massacres by Ukrainians ahead of an anniversary that remains a sore point between the neighboring nations.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Poles, including men, women and children, were killed and their villages burned down during 1943 and 1944 in what was then Nazi-occupied eastern Poland and is now western Ukraine. Poles are marking the July 11, 1943 anniversary, the day of the worst bloodshed, in which Ukrainian nationalists attacked 100 villages. Their plan was to have a sovereign and nationally homogenous Ukraine after the war. Sometimes, their action was met with retaliation.
The painful past is a sore point in otherwise friendly relations between Poland and Ukraine.
After much debate, Poland’s Senate, in a recent statement, refrained from calling the killings genocide, a term used in Poland but rejected by Ukraine. At a recent meeting, national church leaders appealed for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Still, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych declined attendance at religious observances during the weekend in Ukraine, which his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Komorowski, planned to attend. The Ukrainians also say the killings were provoked by anti-Ukraine Polish partisans.
Under communism, talk about the killings was taboo and historians are only now revealing the details. With evidence basing chiefly on survivor accounts, historians estimate Polish victims at around 60,000 and Ukrainian victims at up to 20,000.
Families who once lived in the area prayed Sunday at Poland’s Jasna Gora shrine in the southern city of Czestochowa.