How we were expelled from our native land....Recollections by "Sinyavets".

This article appeared in Ukrainian, in vol. 3, Fall 1995 of "Lemkivshchyna" Magazine, P.O. Box 7, Clifton NJ 07011-0007, USA. Literal translation by Walter Maksimovich.

50 years have passed, since a horrible fate has befallen upon us. A lot has been written and passed down by a word of mouth, about those horrible times, but we always keep returning to them, because what took place can never be forgotten, i.e., what the Poles kept doing, under a cover of Moscovite- "liberators", with our people.
At that time I was 12 years old, but those horrible days have been ingrained in my memory, when the Polish gangs were robbing our villages, slaughtering innocent people, not distinguishing whether they were elderly or children.
Just during one night in our village of Sinyava, near Rimaniv, Poles slaughtered or burned alive over 50 people.
I recall, when prior to this assault, the Poles came to perform searches: certain possessions were taken, that were left after the frontal operations (military activities as WW II was moving westward - WM), and asked my mother, pointing at a picture frame hanging on the wall, that was carved out in Ukrainian style: "A gdzye machye tego Hitlera" or "Shevchenka", and "a gdzye oytsyets?" (Polish for "And where are you keeping this Hitler" or "Shevchenko" and "where is your father?" - WM) .
We normally replied that the father died during the German-Polish war (in 1939 - WM). We maintained the same response later, whenever we were called out to be questioned by NKVD, about my father's whereabouts.
The "uninvited guests" arrived that blody night, to the house where we lived with our mother, at the house of her first cousin Maria Sudomir (maiden name Shostakovich). She was wed to Petro Sudomir (nicknamed Hirnyachinny), an exemplary farmer that was known "to the entire village", he also made good shoes and helped the poor.
That night the gangs broke into the house of Dmitro Sudomir, who lived near his brother Petro, pulled him out of the house, and led him under threat to Petro's house, so that Dmitro would wake him up and Petro would unlock the door. When Petro Sudomir unlocked the door, the gang broke into the house, and ordered everybody to lie down on the floor, and they themselves started to plunder whatever would fall into their hands. After everything was taken, Petro was asked "A gdzye yest rodzeena?" ("where's the rest of the family?" - WM), (i.e., about us). Petro replied that both of us are not at home, that I and my brother Miron went to our uncle who lived in Tarnavka. My mother slept in the attic, since the house was very small, and she was able to overhear all the conversations and whatever took place in the house.
Afterwards, one of the gang members hit Petro with the rifle butt on the head, and told them to lie down, with exception that both Petro and Dmitro were lead out to a neighboring house, which belonged to Anton Lazenha, or as he was nicknamed in the village, Onya Lazenha.
There the gangsters concluded their business: all were told to lie down on the floor, and afterwards they were executed.
The wife of Anton-Onya with her two small children, and an elderly mother, went out of their mind; they came back to their senses, when their house was already burning.
After Maria Sudomir realized that the neighbor's house was burning, and also earlier heard the shots within the house, she drew her own conclusion, as to what the Poles have done. In this state of mind, she ran out of her house, and threw herself into the burning house, the Poles started firing in her direction. Crawling, she reached the burning house, and was able to pull her husband outside, but he was already dead. Since this was a wooden house, with a thatched straw roof, his brother Dmitro and Anton Lazenha were incinerated inside of the burning house. This was all witnessed, and lived through, by my mother. Fortunately, both of us at this time were not at home, otherwise we too would have ended up on that blood stained floor. Death was constantly on our heels, but our guardian angel kept saving us from unavoidable death.
I remember well this day, and I'll remember it till the end of my life, that about two days prior to this assault by the Poles, I was overcome by some premanition or feeling, as if somebody was whispering into my ear, that I should head away from this house. The same evening, we got together with my brother, and headed across the forest, to the neighboring village of Tarnavka, where my uncle Andriy Ternovich lived.
By the following day the news reached Tarnavka, that the Poles had slaughtered many people in Sinyava, and burned down houses.
When we heard about this, we'd run to Sinyava, to find out what took place over there, and we witnessed a terrible scene: near the church, people were burying their immediate family members and relatives. I remember, as if this took place today, when Andriy Bek (in the village he was nicknamed "Babal") brought on a horse drawn cart, torn into pieces by grenade explosions, his mother, son, and three sisters (the older one who had two little children, and two younger ones, who only recently had returned from forced slave labor in Germany).
The head of the family (Andriy "Babal") spent the night in the attic, where the hay was being stored, and observed through a tiny window, as the Polish gangsters started shooting at windows, and hurling grenades into the house, he then came down the ladder into the barn, and from here he crawled across the courtyard, because the house was already burning.
Similar fate befell the brother of my grandmother, Ivan Lusik, who came out of his house to observe "because the Poles set the neighbor's house on fire", and right there, in his own front yard, Poles killed him.
Henko Tsapkoviy (nicknamed Shinyak), a good, happy, and clever friend of my brother's, who was returning from an evening out, as a bachelor, was killed along the road, since he supposedly recognized these Poles, who were slaughtering the innocent people.
People, because they were frightened, didn't know what to do with themselves. Some were contemplating crossing the border into Slovakia, across the mountains, others wished to remain and continue to live among the Poles, and others - to leave for Ukraine, "na Vskhood (polish for "to the East" - WM).
When one day we drove with my neighbor (Mikhaylo Mitrik-Skarbut) - this was on a Sunday, to a train station in Voroblik, already past Rimaniv, three armed Poles popped out acrossed the road, from the rye field (this was during the summer, in July) and removed from the cart, a plow and some other things, took the horses and left, but then one of them began shouting: "Shchelay tikh gadoov Rusinoov" (polish for "Shoot those snakes, Rusyns"). Both I and my brother, and a neighbor, threw ourselves into a ditch, and by crawling escaped their bullets.
This wasn’t just a single occurrence, when in broad daylight, attacks and squaring of accounts took place with our unarmed population.
After this bloody night, people in our village were very frightened. Some left their houses and headed to their friends in other villages, or wherever they could. When people turned to a Soviet commandant in Rimaniv for protection from the Polish bandits, his reply was brief: “Leave for your motherland, to Ukraine, life is better there, and there nobody will bother you.”
So we had no choice, we had to leave.
In late July 1945, our village was already packed into cattle cars, awaiting departure to the East, but for some reason the locomotive was not being hitched up to the cars, so we had to take a collection for the Moscals, to buy booze, in order to accelerate the process. People sat hungry, there was no food for the children. Some still had a cow, so that milk was available for the children.
I remember that my mother must have anticipated these difficulties, because she prepared crackers made from oat flour, since no other flower was available, and even for this one she had to barter somewhere in Slovakia, where she walked barefoot, in order to exchange onions or garlic for the grain or flour.
These crackers helped us a lot in this “journey” to Ukraine. When our transport arrived at the station in Sambor, we were unloaded from the Polish train, and in order to continue with our journey, we had to transfer to another train - soviet one, since wide gauge rail was starting here. In Sambor we spent over a week at the train station.
From Sambor we were delivered to a train station in Potutori, near Berezhani. Here we were unloaded under an open sky, and you do with yourself whatever you wish. No food remained. I remember as I with my old grandmother headed for the village, to beg people for a piece of bread. Some was collected, and we happily headed back to the train station, knowing that we won’t die of starvation.
In Potutori we spent a week, but nobody was interested in us, as to why you came here, what are your needs, in other words, you all might as well go to hell.
But one day the Soviet authorities sent a horse-drawn cart after us. All four of us boarded it, since we had no possessions, except for one feather bed, and had no idea where we were being taken. We rode the entire night. In the morning we were taken to some abandoned village, forgotten by God and human beings. Houses were made of clay, overgrown with weeds, with no human being or dogs in it. Whoever was smart enough, picked a better looking house, but we found a house without doors or windows in it, with straw-covered roof... This was the village of Malovodi, where Poles used to live, but they left for Poland in the spring. Our stay was very short: no school, no church, no river, no forest, just steppes and farm fields. It’s true that these fields were planted with wheat, rye, so that people collected enough grain to make bread for two years.
A lot of our people were getting sick, beacuse here the climate and vegetation were different. Especially in the fall, a lot of folks suffered of malaria. This disease did not miss me either, and medicines in those days were just about non-existent, with difficulties we were provided with quinine powder (very bitter).
One day my brother Miron left to search for a better village, and by foot, across the fields, he made it all the way to Kozova - 16 km from Malovodi. There he found a house built of rocks, so that’s how we moved from one “paradise” to live in another, where my elderly mother now resides . There we managed to survive these terrible days.
We settled in Kozova in August 1945. We were parceled out about a half hectare (one acre - WM) wheat field, and together with my grandma, we started to harvest. We had no horse, and the neighbors were not willing to help, because everybody was taking as much as he could, since the fall was approaching, to be followed by winter, stores remained empty, but then with what were we to pay for it anyway, since we remained penniless. My brother signed up for some kind of work, even though he should have resumed attending school, but the poverty was forcing him to earn a slice of bread.
That year I could not go to school, because I had no clothes. After one year, I started attending the 6th grade, after my older brother bought me some kind of pants and shoes, however he himself was working and had no warm clothing. Due to cold temperatures, he caught pneumonia, and miraculously survived, started loosing weight, due to lack of food and medicines, but his young body was somehow able to overcome it.
In Kozova, near Ternopil, many people from our village settled down, among them our friends Vatslavski (Shestakov - as they were nicknamed), Andriy Feshko (Teodor) and Maria, whose husband Petro was killed by Poles, along with his brother, and also Lusiks and Lazenhas - relatives on my grandmother’s side.
During these difficult times, when we were all shoved into kolhosps (collective farms -WM), we had nothing, since the grain which we had earlier harvested, was taken away from us for the kolhosp, and all that was left was two buckets of potatoes, which we set aside for seeds for next spring, and that’s how we survived that winter.
My brother, who was employed, was issued a ration card for 9 kg (20 lbs - WM) of flour per month. This flour saved us, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived. In the spring my mother collected arrach (loboda), nettle (krapiva), and together with flour was preparing us a concoction.
There were no woods by Kozova, but 4 km away, by Yosefivka grew bushes, which we used to cut down in winter, and drag home on our backs, in order to be able to cook some “pokhlobka”. During the day, we all lived in one small kitchen, where an old, blind grandma slept, and we would sleep in an unheated room. This was a real refrigerator, since the walls were glistening like in a refrigerator. Before heading to bed, mom would warm up a brick on the stove, bundle it in a towel, and place it in the bead, to at least slightly warm it up for us. We would wrap our heads in shawls or head scarves.
One winter, our mother caught a chill in the right hand. The hand started to hurt, began to swell, but there were no medicines. In the spring, before Easter, we noticed that this was serious, and asked my neighbor Anton Mitrik, to take her to hospital in Berezhany, there she spent over two months, because later she developed a case of "tuberculosis of bones". For several years she was unable to bend her elbow, but she had to report for work at the kolhosp, to turn in 220 working days (trudodnyey) under slave conditions. This was worse than in the days of slavery, because slaves were being fed, and we were treated like cattle.
One had to work, and at the end of the year you earned nothing for it, since first of all to had to satiate the "authorities", you were left to fend for yourself. Authorities at the kolhosp stole as much as they wanted, and we toiled for them for nothing in return. If one was caught carrying home few ears of grain from the field, or a potato, sentences run from 5 to 10 years in Siberia.
Once my mother carried few ears in her hands, when she noticed an NKVD member coming out of hiding, had she not thrown them away, he would have confiscated them right away, and placed her in a jail.
How many innocent people did the NKVD sent to Siberia in those days? As I walked to school in winter, I saw many times next to the NKVD building, corpses of young boys and girls, lined up by the wall, killed by the Moskals. They intentionally placed them like that, and would transport population from local villages, to recognize their own boys and girls. Normally even when they recognized, parents would not disclose it by their appearance, that these were their children. There were cases of mothers breaking down, their hearts could not bear it. They would normally be convicted to jail from 20 to 25 years. Afterwards, corpses would be removed at night, to be dumped into deep ravines, burying by relatives was not permitted. There were cases of dogs unearthing some of these corpses, and dragging them all over the field. Able bodied man were hunted down to be transported for work in the coal mines of Donbas, where a hard work awaited them, and frequently the death. Many of them died in the coal mines. Our neighbor Ivan Filiv, Yanko (Ivan) Honulak remain underground forever.
Many times, while attending an intermediate school in Kozova, I would arrive there hungry and cold. There were days there when I went without any bread. When I saw other classmates eating bread, tears would appear, and I just hoped that a day would come when I would be able to eat as much bread as I wished. Hunger - the great "master". I feared to ask others for a bite of their bread, this was beneath my dignity, being young I kept the suffering to myself. I was barely making it back home, and ate whatever my mother prepared. She kept making potato soup, thickened with grated potatoes.
Coffee was made from sugar beets, which I stole from rail cars at night, for which I could have paid with my life, had I been caught by the guards.
I mentioned earlier about the fire wood which we pulled for 4 - 5 km. In extremely cold temperature, when it was impossible to go out after those fire sticks, we would burn in the kitchen stove parts from our thatched straw roof. We spent the entire winter in this kitchen, which measured approx. 7 ft by 11 ft, since the room in which we slept wasn't being heated at all.. We had no lamp until approx. 1950, and improvised instead with a lamp made from a mortar shell , wick was made from an old felt hat.
Frequently in winter there was nothing to burn. We even had to burn our own "ustatkovanya" to keep the kitchen warm. To summarize, we were very "happy" to be alive. We feared only one thing, and that is that hungry and barefoot, we will be deported again. Once again our guardian angel steered us away from this danger.
To us the worst was the winter of 1947-8. Besides being hungry, we were lice infested. No matter how often we would boil our clothing, the lice would reappear. We had no soap a the time. We were making our own soap out of dead chickens, adding to the boiling mass some kind of caustic soda. A proverb started to spread "Батьку Сталiн, дай нам мила, бо воши вже дiстають крила" (Papa Stalin, give us soap, because lice are growing wings).
My brother Miron was a farming expert, at work he would receive a piece of soap, and half a loaf of baked goods. As an assistant to the surveyor, he spent most days away from home, surveying. Having no proper clothing for winter work, he caught pneumonia. He stayed at home, since Kozova had no hospital. Visiting doctor would often leave him just an aspirin for headaches, but no prescription drugs. Penicillin was not available, except for the "black market" in Lviv. His life hanging on a thread.
With arrival of spring, and the warm rays of sun, Miron, with his remaining strength, made it to the main door, to inhale that spring air. "If I can make it out of the bed, and crawl to the main threshold, - then I will very likely survive". His will to survive, overcame his sickness. Warming himself in the sun, he eventually recovered and went back to work after a couple of months, to avoid dying of hunger.
At this time widespread campaign to sign up people to the kolhoses was conducted by the communist authorities. Those unwilling to join, after awful tortures, were forced to sign the form. My neighbor, Eva Stets' had her fingers broken, by wedging them into a door jamb. Afterwards, all her possessions were turned over to the kolhosp. Those who wouldn't join, after trial, would either wind up in Siberia, or in jail.
Those were terrible days. Today, 50 years later, one can not believe, that we survived anyway.

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Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich

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© LV Productions  Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
Date last modified: May 30th, 1999.