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grafika

Necropolises

Based on the decision of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee VKP(b) of 5 March 1940, in the spring of 1940 the NKVD murdered about 22,000 Polish citizens: prisoners of war taken captive following the attack of the USSR on eastern territories of the Second Republic of Poland in September 1939, who had been placed in three special camps in Kozelsk and Starobilsk (officers of the Polish Army – the reserve, the regular service, and retired, as well as high-ranking military and state officials) and in Ostashkov (officers of the State Police, the Police of the Silesian Voivodeship, the Border Guard, Prison Guard, Border Protection Corps, intelligence and counterintelligence services, gendarmes and military settlers), or who had been arrested as “enemies of the people” (administration, court and prosecution officials, policemen, officers and non-commissioned officers of the Polish Army, scientists, writers, teachers, entrepreneurs, land owners) and put in prisons in Western Ukraine (Lviv, Rivne, Lutsk, Drohobych, Stanyslaviv, and Ternopil) and Western Belarus (Brest-on-the-Bug, Vilnius, Pinsk, and Baranavichy).

The prisoners from Kozelsk were murdered in the Katyn Forest – most probably some of them were also murdered in basements of the NKVD Regional Directorate in Smolensk – and their bodies were buried in “death pits” in the Katyn Forest. The prisoners from Starobilsk were killed at the NKVD Regional Directorate in Kharkiv; their bodies were buried in Piatykhatky near Kharkiv (presently part of that city). The prisoners from Ostashkov were murdered in the NKVD Regional Directorate in Kalinin (presently: Tver), and their bodies were buried in death pits in Mednoye. The authorities of the USSR wanted the crime to remain a secret; however, the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest by the Germans in 1943 revealed the fate of the Polish Army officers who had been prisoners of the Kozelsk camp. The burial places of the prisoners from the Starobilsk and Ostashkov camps were not discovered until 1990 and confirmed by exhumations in Mednoye and Kharkiv, carried out with the participation of Polish specialists in 1991. When NKVD documentation concerning the Katyn massacre was made public in 1992, it confirmed the fate of prisoners from the Kozelsk, Ostashkov, and Starobilsk camps. It revealed that 7,305 prisoners kept in the prisons, as mentioned above, had also been murdered. The personal details of nearly half of them became known thanks to a document handed over by Ukraine in 1994, containing a list of 3,435 individual prison files of the victims and later named the “Ukrainian Katyn list.”

The proper commemoration of victims of the Katyn massacre was sought by their families in Poland and abroad, organised in associations, in particular the Federation of Katyn Families and the Polish Association “Police Family 1939.” Representatives of the Katyn circles cooperated with the Council for the Protection of Memory of Struggle and Martyrdom (Rada Ochrony Pamięci Walk i Męczeństwa - ROPWiM), the institution responsible for commemorating the victims on behalf of the Polish State. Activities aimed at the building of Katyn Cemeteries were directed by the Secretary of the ROPWiM, Andrzej Przewoźnik. Cooperation with the Federation of Katyn Families, via the Katyn Team operating as part of the ROPWiM, resulted in the development of guidelines concerning the proper commemoration of victims, among other matters. Following the requests of the families, it was decided that the cemeteries were to be built at the original burial sites and that their appearance should indicate the Polish citizenship of the victims, the functions that they performed and the mass character of the crime. It was decided that as it was impossible to build individual graves, the victims would be commemorated by individual epitaph plaques.

In formal terms, the creation of the cemeteries in Katyn and Mednoye was made possible by the Agreement on the Graves and Memorial Sites of Victims of War and Repression, concluded between the Polish and Russian governments in 1994, and the Joint Statement of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs (which referred directly to the creation of war necropolises in Russia); as for the cemeteries in Kharkiv and Kyiv-Bykivnia, this was the Agreement on the Protection of Memorial and Burial Sites of Victims of War and Political Repression, concluded between the governments of Poland and Ukraine, also in 1994. The activities on the part of Poland were coordinated by the Commission for Commemorating the Victims of the Katyn Massacre, established in that same year by the Prime Minister. Its members included, among others: the public prosecutor Stefan Śnieżko as its chairman, the Secretary of the ROPWiM – Andrzej Przewoźnik – as the deputy chairman, along with representatives of government and military institutions. The President of the Management Board of the Federation of Katyn Families, Włodzimierz Dusiewicz, also participated in the work of the Commission.

Upon instructions of the ROPWiM, teams of specialists conducted sampling, exhumation, archaeological, and topographic surveys as well as land-surveying work in Katyn and Mednoye (1994–1995) and Kharkiv (1994-1996). In 1995, the ROPWiM announced an open competition for a design concept for the cemeteries in Katyn, Mednoye, and Kharkiv. The jury, made up of artists, architects, and representatives of state institutions and Katyn circles, selected a project by the sculptor Zdzisław Pidek, the sculptor Andrzej Sołyga, and the architects Wiesław and Jacek Synakiewicz. According to the jury, the designers demonstrated respect for the existing mass graves and death pits, as well as for the trees growing there – witnesses to the crime. Through a tender procedure, Budimex S.A. was selected as the general construction contractor. The making, delivery, and assembly of sculpture elements were commissioned to a consortium of companies: Budimex S.A. and Metalodlew S.A. The cemeteries in Katyn, Mednoye and Kharkiv were built in the years 1999–2000, after appropriate permits were issued by the Russian and Ukrainian authorities, using Polish funds (from the budget of the ROPWiM) and money collected by Katyn families and communities in Poland and around the world.

Not until 1996 was it disclosed to Poland that another burial site of prisoners – victims of the Katyn Massacre – was the cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia. Years of efforts by the ROPWiM, seeking to survey that area, resulted in an agreement with Ukraine, based on which Polish specialists conducted archaeological and exhumation work in 2001 (reconnaissance work), 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012. The surveys revealed the presence of remains of persons included on the “Ukrainian Katyn list.” As it was impossible to confirm that bodies had also been hidden at other sites (Kharkiv, Kherson), it was decided that all persons on the "Ukrainian Katyn list" would be commemorated at a single location – the Polish War Cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia. A competition for the architectural concept of the cemetery, announced in 2011, led to the selection of a design by the architect Robert Głowacki (of the company AIR Projekt) and the sculptor Marek Moderau (of the company Moderau Art). The cemetery was built in 2012 using Polish State funds – commissioned and financed by the budget of the ROPWiM. The building contractor – a consortium of the companies: UNIBEP S.A. and the Zakład Kamieniarski FURMANEK sp. j. – was selected by tender.

The first of the cemeteries mentioned above to be completed was the Cemetery to the Victims of Totalitarianism in Kharkiv, opened on 17 June 2000 in the presence of the Polish Prime Minister, Jerzy Buzek, and the Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. The second cemetery to be opened – on 28 July 2000 – was the Polish War Cemetery in Katyn; the ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Viktor Khristenko. The Polish War Cemetery in Mednoye was opened on 2 September 2000 with the participation of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and the Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo. The ceremonies were attended by many Katyn families, as well as clergymen of various denominations and high-ranking state officials, including the Secretary of the ROPWiM, Andrzej Przewoźnik. The Polish War Cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia was opened on 21 September 2012 with the participation of the Polish President – Bronisław Komorowski, the President of Ukraine – Viktor Yanukovych, church prelates, families of the victims, and high-ranking state officials, including the Secretary of the ROPWiM, Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert.

The Polish War Cemeteries in Katyn and Mednoye are part of the Russian Memorial Complexes. At each of the cemeteries, a separate section commemorates Soviet citizens of various nationalities (including Poles) oppressed by USSR authorities. Additionally, at Katyn, Soviet prisoners of war executed by Germans in May 1943 were symbolically honoured, and the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Resurrection, dedicated to Soviet victims of political repression buried in the Katyn Forest, was built at the entrance to the area. The Russian Memorial Complexes are in the care of the State Central Museum of Russian Contemporary History.

In Kyiv-Bykivnia, in addition to the commemoration of victims of the Katyn Massacre, there is also a Ukrainian memorial dedicated to Soviet citizens – victims of political repression (including many Poles). The National Historical Memorial Reserve “Bykivnia Graves,” of which the Polish War Cemetery is part, is in the care of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture. In Kharkiv, unlike at the other cemeteries, there is no separate Polish necropolis. The Victims of Totalitarianism Cemetery is a communal cemetery where graves of the victims of the Katyn Massacre and graves of Soviet victims of Stalinist repression lie next to each other. The cemetery is in the care of the Kharkiv City Council.

Each of the Polish necropolises has the following elements: an altar with a cross and an altar wall with the names of victims inscribed on it, a memorial bell and obelisks with the coat of arms of Poland, the Virtuti Militari Cross, and the September Campaign Cross. Those at the cemeteries in Katyn, Mednoye, and Kharkiv are made of cast iron, and those at Kyiv-Bykivnia – of light-grey granite. In Katyn, Kharkiv, and Kyiv-Bykivnia, the symbols of the four religions of citizens of the Second Republic of Poland (the Latin cross, the Orthodox cross, the Star of David, and the Islamic crescent) are displayed. The Polish character of the cemeteries is emphasised by reliefs placed at the entrance, depicting Polish military eagles, and information boards in three languages, mounted in Katyn, Kharkiv, and Mednoye in 2010. Each of the buried persons has an individual epitaph plaque indicating: their military or service rank, first and last name, date and place of birth, profession, service assignment, and year of death. The inscriptions for the cemeteries in Katyn, Mednoye, and Kharkiv were prepared by three teams of specialists, appointed by the Independent Historical Committee for Investigation into the Katyn Massacre. The basis for determining the lists of victims were transportation lists of prisoners of war from the Kozelsk and Ostashkov camps, presented by the USSR President in 1990, and the “Gajdidej List,” containing the names of prisoners from the Starobilsk camp; additional sources included archival queries and surveys completed by members of the Katyn families. The inscriptions at the cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia were prepared by specialists from the ROPWiM based on the NKVD document, as mentioned above, (a list of personal prison files), materials collected from the victims’ families, and research queries.

KATYN

The Polish War Cemetery in Katyn, covering an area of approx. 1.4 ha, includes six mass graves with crosses and two individual graves of generals: Mieczysław Smorawiński and Bronisław Bohaterewicz. The death pit sites are marked with plaques. 4,412 epitaph plaques hang on the wall surrounding the graves.

Next to the altar, there is a plaque with the following inscription: In tribute to more than 4,400 officers of the Polish Army buried in the Katyn Forest – prisoners of war from the Kozelsk camp murdered by the NKVD in the spring of 1940. The Polish Nation.

In 2014, eleven NATO military attachés accredited in Moscow, accompanied by a Polish delegation, paid tribute to the victims at the Polish War Cemetery. The ROPWiM conducted renovation and maintenance work at the cemetery in 2009, 2010, and 2016.

Katyn - individual epitaph plaques of victims of the NKVD, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Katyn - one of the death pits, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Katyn - altar wall, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Katyn - entrance to the Polish War Cemetery, photo by Ryszard Grauman

MEDNOYE

The Polish War Cemetery in Mednoye covers an area of 1.7 ha, within which 25 mass graves were organised on the sites of the original death pits. They are marked with plaques, and a tall cross stands on each of them.Iindividual epitaph plaques numbering 6,296 are placed along the alley running around the graves.

Next to the altar, there is a plaque with the following inscription: In tribute to/ more than 6,300 of those resting in Mednoye/ officers of the State Police/ and the Silesian Voivodeship Police/ the Border Guard and Prison Guard/ soldiers and officers/ of the military gendarmerie / the Border Protection Corps/ and other military formations/ employees of the state administration/ and the justice system/ of the Second Republic of Poland/ prisoners of war from the Ostashkov camp/ murdered by the NKVD in the spring of 1940/ in Kalinin/ The Polish Nation.

The ROPWiM conducted renovation and maintenance work at the Mednoye cemetery in 2010.

Mednoye  - individual epitaph plaques of NKVD victims, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Mednoye - altar wall and pylons with Polish eagles, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Mednoye - mass graves of victims of the NKVD, photo by Ryszard Grauman

KHARKIV

The joint Victims of Totalitarianism Cemetery in Kharkiv covers an area of 2.31 ha. It contains many mass graves, of which 15 are graves of victims of the Katyn Massacre and 60 – graves of citizens of Soviet Ukraine, of various nationalities (including Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians, Germans and Lithuanians) – victims of Stalinist repression. At the cemetery entrance, reliefs are depicting the Polish military eagle and the coat of arms of Ukraine. An essential element of the cemetery is the “black road,” paved with basalt blocks. At the cemetery, there are two altar walls with names inscribed on them: a Polish one, dedicated to prisoners from Starobilsk, and a Ukrainian one, commemorating 2,746 Soviet citizens that are known by name. Closer to the Polish altar wall, along the road, on a low wall base, there are currently 3,811 individual epitaph plaques for prisoners of war from the Starobilsk camp.

Next to the altar, there is a plaque with the following inscription: In tribute to more than 4,300 officers of the Polish Army, prisoners of war of the Starobilsk camp and Soviet prisons, murdered by the NKVD in Kharkiv in the spring of 1940. The Polish Nation.

In 2004, having prepared biographical notes for the Cemetery Record Book and having received corrections from families, the ROPWiM replaced 815 epitaph plaques, removed 6, and added 24 new ones. In 2010, renovation and conservation work commissioned by the ROPWiM was carried out at the cemetery.

Kharkiv - individual epitaph plaques of NKVD victims, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Kharkiv - Polish altar wall, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Kharkiv - entrance to the cemetery, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Kharkiv - mass graves of victims of the NKVD, photo by Ryszard Grauman

KYIV-BYKIVNIA

At the Polish War Cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia, there is one mass grave covered with granite slabs. On a low wall base running along the alley surrounding the cemetery, 3,435 individual epitaph plaques symbolically commemorate all persons on the “Ukrainian Katyn List.”

In 2015, some elements of the cemetery’s architecture underwent conservation work. In 2017, unknown perpetrators vandalised the Polish and Ukrainian parts of the necropolis with offensive writing on the monuments. Restoration of the proper appearance of the cemetery was financed by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

Kyiv-Bykivnia - individual epitaph plaques of NKVD victims, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Kyiv-Bykivnia - obelisks with religious symbols, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Kyiv-Bykivnia - altar wall, photo by Ryszard Grauman

Kyiv-Bykivnia - entrance to the Polish War Cemetery, photo by Ryszard Grauman

The Council for the Protection of Memory of Struggle and Martyrdom took care of the Katyn Cemeteries on behalf of the Polish State. In 2016, the Council’s competencies related to Polish war cemeteries abroad were taken over by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (MCNH).

The inscriptions at the three cemeteries built in the years 1999–2000 continue to be verified based on research conducted in recent years. At present, the MCNH database contains 4,415 names of persons buried in Katyn, as some historians claim that the list of those buried at this cemetery should additionally include seven persons taken from Kozelsk to Smolensk in March 1940. According to the MCNH database, 6,287 persons are buried in Mednoye. Determining the list of Staroblisk prisoners buried at Kharkiv has presented the most significant difficulty. At present, the number of victims is assumed to be 3,807. A total of approx. 18,000 victims of the Katyn Massacre have been commemorated at cemeteries located at Katyn and Mednoye in Russia as well as at Kharkiv and Kyiv-Bykivnia in Ukraine. The personal details of 3,870 prisoners murdered in 1940, placed in prisons in Western Belarus, remain unknown.

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