WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The chairman of Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday offered words of reconciliation over World War II-era mass murders that have strained relations with its neighbor and strategic ally Poland for 80 years.
“Human life has equal value, regardless of nationality, race, sex or religion,” Ruslan Stefanchuk told Polish lawmakers. “With this awareness we will cooperate with you, dear Polish friends, and we will accept the truth regardless of how uncompromising it may be.”
Stefanchuk’s words sounded a new tone and were in contrast to the recent angry reaction of Ukraine’s ambassador to Polish expectations of an apology.
Poland this year is marking the 80th anniversary of the 1943-44 massacre of some 100,000 Poles by Ukrainian nationalists and others in Volhynia and other regions that were then in eastern Poland, under Nazi German occupation, and which are now part of Ukraine.
Entire villages were burned down and all their inhabitants killed by the nationalists and their helpers seeking to establish an independent Ukraine state. Poland calls the events a genocide.
An estimated 15,000 Ukrainians died in retaliation.
Stefanchuk was speaking in Poland’s parliament during a visit to Warsaw. Poland has been offering military and humanitarian support to Ukraine in its war with Russia.
Stefanchuk thanked Poland for the current support, and then offered sympathy to the families of the Poles slain in what is known as the Volhynia massacre. He also offered a joint effort to identify and honor all the victims buried in Ukraine.
Poland has long been seeking Kyiv’s permission for exhumations, identification and commemoration of the Polish victims. However, some of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders of the time are regarded as key figures for Ukraine’s statehood, lending a different perspective there to the events.
Stefanchuk thanked the families of the victims for cultivating a memory which “does not call for revenge or hatred, but which serves as a warning that nothing like that can ever happen between our nations again.”
He said that identification and honoring of the victims “without bans or barriers” is “our joint moral and Christian obligation.”
He said that an open, joint approach to the painful history would be an “exceptionally necessary test” that could pave the way for the words “we forgive and ask for forgiveness.” Those words, offered by Poland’s Catholic bishops to Germany’s bishops in the 1960s, laid the foundations for Poland’s reconciliation with its World War II aggressor, Germany.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau described Stefanchuk’s speech as “very good,” saying that “we have heard what we wanted to hear.”
“We are on the right path and this speech shows that our positions are getting closer again. We have something to build on,” Rau said.
Poland’s leaders have insisted that bringing the full truth into the open will strengthen bilateral relations with Ukraine and neutralize vulnerabilities that could be exploited by third countries seeking to undermine these ties.