Eighty years ago, on June 29, 1941, thousands of Ukrainian nationalists were massacred in western Ukraine by the retreating Soviet army as the German Nazis were preparing to capture Lviv. The Soviets were putting into practice the scorched-earth policy of destroying anything of value to the advancing Nazis.
In Lutsk, a Russian prison director sent 1,500 prisoners, Ukrainian nationalists, into the courtyard when Germans began to approach the city and all were shot down with machine gun fire. Those who were only wounded were later killed with pistols and hand grenades.
At Dubno, 528 bodies were found, and in Lviv, over 3,000 Ukrainians were murdered by the Soviet secret police, known as the GPU. Photos included in the dispatch by the Associated Press from Berlin showed rows of corpses as relatives attempted to identify them.
A United Press correspondent with the German armies on the Soviet front reported on July 7 that together with other correspondents he saw in Lviv evidence of mass executions by the Soviets before the Soviet army withdrew from the city. German officers declared 100 corpses were found in one military prison, 250 in another and 65 in another.
In one prison, the correspondent’s writings and included photographs showed there were between 20 to 30 corpses, and at another prison there were unmistakable signs that a large number of corpses had been buried in the prison cellar.
Many of those who were shot were political prisoners whom the Soviets had rounded up during their occupation of western Ukraine in the autumn of 1939. Many of them were shot outright, including a considerable number of clergy, a fact which the Moscow anti-religious organ “Bezbozhnik” (Godless) itself reported then. Thousands of others were exiled to Siberia or to the Donbas coal mines, where they were doomed to forced labor underground.
Following the advancing Nazi army were motorized Hungarian troops who were fighting as allies of the Germans. Dispatches from Budapest in early July 1941 reported on Hungarian troop positions having crossed the Sereth River (100 miles east of the Hungarian border).
Often times, the advancing Nazis were greeted by the Ukrainians as liberators from the Soviet regime, but relief from Soviet repression was replaced by Nazi terror. Following the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, the control over the country was split between Poland, Romania and Germany. Some 2.5 million Ukrainians were forcibly taken to Germany as slave labor. Some 600,000 Ukrainian Jews were also murdered during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine.
Sources: “Retreating Reds massacre Ukrainians,” “Hungarians in western Ukraine,” The Ukrainian Weekly, July 11, 1941.