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WARSAW, Poland — Hundreds of Poles prayed Sunday for victims of World War II-era massacres by Ukrainians before an anniversary that remains a sore point between the neighboring nations.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Poles, including men, women and children, were killed or hacked to death 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 marking the anniversary, toned down the use of the word "genocide," to describe the killing, a term used in Poland but rejected by Ukraine.

"The organized and massive nature of these crimes and the accompanying cruelty mark them as ethnic cleansing that bears signs of genocide," the senators said.

At a recent meeting, national church leaders offered apologies and appealed for forgiveness and reconciliation.

"We know that the Christian assessment of the crimes in Wolyn (region) is calling for our unequivocal condemnations and apology," Polish and Ukrainian church Ieaders said in a joint declaration.

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