The Wisla Operation  

Operation Wisła (Polish: Akcja Wisła) was the codename for the 1947 deportation of southeastern Poland's Ukrainian, Boyko and Lemko populations, carried out by the Soviet installed communist authorities in Poland with assistance from Soviet Union and Communist Czechoslovakia. The stated goal of the operation was to suppress the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA), which had allegedly been terrorizing and murdering Poles in those southeastern territories since 1944.[citation needed] About 200,000 people, mostly of Ukrainian ethnicity, residing in southeastern Poland were, often forcibly, resettled to the "Recovered Territories" in the north and west of the country. The operation was named after the Vistula River, Wisła in Polish.

After the fall of communism, the operation was condemned by Polish and Ukrainian politicians and historians. It has been described as an ethnic cleansing by Polish and Western sources as well as by Ukrainians.


The direct pretext for Operation Wisła was the March 28, 1947, assassination of Poland's General Karol Świerczewski. He was killed in an ambush at Jabłonki, near Baligród in the Bieszczady Mountains, en route to a military post at Cisna. The ambush had allegedly been set by the UIA's Chrin and Stach sotnias.

About 12 hours after the incident, the Polish communist authorities took the official decision to deport all the Ukrainians and Lemkos from southeast Poland. It is known, however, that Operation Wisła had been planned many months in advance with the purpose of scattering the remaining Ukrainian minority over Poland rather than crushing sympathy for the UIA.

Deportations and repressions

According to the order of the Ministry of Recovered Territories "the main goal of the relocation of 'W' settlers is their assimilation into a new Polish environment, all efforts should be exerted to that end. Do not apply the term 'Ukrainians' to the settlers. In cases when the intelligentsia element reaches the recovered territories, they should be settled separately and away from the communities of the 'W' settlers.

The operation was carried out by Operational Group Wisła consisting of about 20,000 personnel commanded by General Stefan Mossor. These personnel included soldiers of the Polish Army and the KBW, as well as functionaries of Milicja Obywatelska and UB. The operation commenced at 4 a.m., April 28, 1947. The expellees comprised about 140,000 to 150,000 Ukrainians and Lemkos still remaining after the 1944-1946 resettlements to the USSR, and the inhabitants of Polesie, Roztocze, Pogórze Przemyskie, Bieszczady, Beskid Niski, Beskid Sądecki, and Ruś Szlachtowska.

Members of the intelligentsia, including clergy (both Greek-Catholic and Orthodox), were sent from collection points to the concentration camp in Jaworzno called the Central Work Camp, and was a branch of the German camp Auschwitz. At the latter camp, almost 4,000 persons were held, including 800 women and dozens of children. The captives, of whom 200 died in the camp, were subject to harsh interrogations and beatings despite the fact that no active members of the Ukrainian nationalist resistance (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army) were sent to the camp. For the latter show trials by the extraordinary Operation Group Wisła Tribunals or regular military tribunals were held and over 500 were sentenced to death and executed.

The remaining expellees were resettled to Warmia and Masuria, in the north, or to the western Recovered Territories. The last resettlements took place as late as 1952, in Polesia. Operation Wisła closed officially with a ceremonial bestowing of decorations on what were deemed the most deserving Polish soldiers, held on the Polish-Czechoslovak border.

A consequence of Operation Wisła was the almost total depopulation of Pogórze Przemyskie, Bieszczady and Beskid Niski. The relocation of the population put the UIA in a difficult position: deprived of human and other resources, the outnumbered Ukrainian partisans were unable to hold their own against the Communist Polish Army. Nevertheless the UIA continued its fight for several more years. After the last relocations, the UIA's activities on Polish territory died out, while some Ukrainian insurgents fled to Western Europe.

Operation "Wisła" ended on July 31, 1947.

Repatriates and resettlers after WWII into the newly acquired Western and Northern Polish territories

The resettling occurred in three stages.

The first stage occurred at the end of the Second World War. Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges - Poles that resided east of the established Poland-Soviet border were deported to Poland (c.a. 2 100 000 persons) and Ukrainians that resided west of the established Poland-Soviet Union border were deported to Soviet Ukraine. Population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to April 1946 (ca. 450,000 persons). Some Ukrainian-lemkos (ca. 200,000 persons) left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily (between 1944 and 1945). Bilateral agreements were signed between Poland and the USSR on 9 September 1944 and 16 August 1945. As a result of these treaties, some 400,000 Lemkos and Ukrainians were deported to the Ukraine, and some 300,000 managed to stay in their native regions, within the borders of Poland. They lived in such Rusyn former territories as Lemkowszczyzna, Chełmskie and Podlasie.

The second event occurred in 1947 under Poland's Wisła Operation. The Rusyn and Ukrainian population that still existed in southeastern Poland were forcibly resettled to western and northern Poland. The resettlement to West-Poland occurred from 28 April 1947 to 31 July 1947. 130,000 - 140,000 persons were moved from such districts as Rzeszowskie, Lubelskie and Małopolskie. Nobody during Operation Vistula (1947) was sent to Ukraine.

A third deportation of Ukrainians and Poles occurred in 1951. It occurred when Poland-Soviet Union adjusted the border in the upper San River area (the headwaters area of the San River) and in the Belz area. South of Przemyśl Poland was given land east of the San River and Soviet Ukraine was given land that was west of and including Bełz that was in Poland. Populations were exchanged.

The situation of Lemkos in Poland after 1956

Some five thousand Lemko families returned to their home regions in Eastern Poland in 1957 and 1958.

While the 2002/2003 Polish census shows only 5,800 Lemkos (self-identification), there are estimates that up to 100,000 Lemkos total live in Poland today, and up to 10,000 of them in Lemkivshchyna. The larger groups of Lemkos live in villages: Łosie, Krynica, Nowica, Zdynia, Gładyszów, Hańczowa, Zyndranowa, Uście Gorlickie, Bartne, Bielanka, and in eastern part of Lemkivshchyna – Mokre, Szczawne, Kulaszne, Rzepedź, Turzańsk, Komańcza. Also in towns: Sanok, Nowy Sącz, and Gorlice.


Memories of Operation Wisła remain another scar in the complex, often troubled 20th-century relations between the Ukrainian and Polish peoples, alongside the Massacre of Poles in Volhynia by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during the Second World War in the wake of the interwar oppression of the Ukrainians in the Polish controlled territories that followed the Polish-Ukrainian War in Galicia in 1918-1919 and the subsequent Peace of Riga.

On August 3, 1990, the Polish Senate adopted a resolution condemning the postwar Polish government's Operation Vistula. In response, the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) adopted the statement of understanding of the Polish Senate resolution as a serious step towards the correction of the injustices towards the Ukrainians in Poland. In the same resolution the Rada condemned the criminal acts of the Stalin regime towards the Polish people.

On April 18, 2002 in Krasiczyn, Poland President Aleksander Kwaśniewski has expressed regret over Operation Wisła. The President described the operation as the symbol of harm against Ukrainians committed by the communist authorities. "Speaking on behalf of the Republic of Poland I want to express regret to all those wronged by the operation" - Kwaśniewski wrote in a letter to the National Remembrance Institute and participants in the conference on the 1947 Operation Wisła. "It was believed for years that the Vistula operation was the revenge for slaughter of Poles by the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) in the east in the years 1943-1944. Such attitude is wrong and cannot be accepted. The Vistula operation should be condemned."

In 2007 the presidents of Poland (Lech Kaczyński) and Ukraine (Viktor Yushchenko) condemned the operation as a violation of human rights. President Yushchenko also noted that the operation was executed and was the responsibility of a "totalitarian communist regimes".