Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church (L) and Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the Polish Roman Catholic Episcopate, during today's ceremony in Warsaw, at the headquarters of the Polish Episcopate .Photo: PAP/Grzegorz Jakubowski
Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the Polish Roman Catholic Episcopate, and Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church, were the chief signatories of the document.
The declaration calls on Poles and Ukrainians to “open minds and hearts to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.”
The appeal accompanies the 70th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres, which took place in a Nazi-occupied region that had been divided between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to the Second World War.
After sporadic killings, a concerted action was launched on 11 July 1943, and from 1943 to 1945, it is estimated that 100,000 ethnic Poles were killed in the Volhynia area. Units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a guerilla force of Ukrainian nationalists, carried out the actions.
“We are aware that only the truth can set us free, the truth, which does not beautify and does not omit, which does not pass over in silence, but leads to forgiveness,” today's statement reads.
Besides citing “the evil” that was done against ethnic Poles, the resolution also refers to Polish counter-attacks, and the partisan war that unfolded.
It is estimated that about 2000-3000 Ukrainians were killed in Volhynia, and about 20,000 more when the fighting spread to other areas of south east Poland (1944-1947).
“As leader of the Polish Episcopate, I carry the request for forgiveness from our Ukrainian brothers,” Michalik stressed.
The resolution steers clear of reference to the word genocide.
Earlier this week, Father Stefan Batruch, pastor of a Greek Catholic parish in the Polish city of Lublin, told Polish Radio that it is too early to insist that Ukrainians describe the Volhynia massacres as genocide.
“This certainly cannot be done by pushing the other side up against wall with the order: 'Recognise this now,'” he reflected.
Nevertheless, last week, the Polish Senate passed a resolution describing the Volhynia massacres as “ethnic cleansing bearing the hallmarks of genocide.”
Poland's lower house of parliament (Sejm) has yet to finalise the wording of its resolution. (nh)