The corpses of prisoners of the Lviv NKVD jail who were hastily executed by the NKVD troops before fleeing the city from advancing Germans in July 1941. (Photo: cdvr.org.ua)
Article by: Center for Research of the liberation movement
75 years ago, during June – July 1941, the Soviet NKVD shot around 24 thousand prisoners in western Ukraine. Now the names of many of these victims are made known thanks to documents published the Electronic Archive of the Ukrainian liberation movement.
Immediately after Nazi Germany attacked the USSR, the Soviet NKVD began shooting prisoners who were sentenced to death. Plans were made to evacuate the rest to rear, and to free those who were arrested for minor crimes.
However, the advance of German troops was so rapid that the Soviet prison workers did not have time to prepare the right amount of train cars. Then the NKVD decided to eliminate those prisoners whose evacuation wasn’t possible. Commissar of Internal Affairs Lawrence Beria gave his official permission for this on 4 July 1941, even though mass executions began in already in June.
The prisoners were executed in Ukrainian Oblast centers, as well as many smaller cities. Often the executions were done with cruelty: in Lutsk, the prisoners were blown up by grenades, and in Zalischyky two train cars filled with prisoners were thrown off a bridge into a precipice formed by the Dniester river. Prisoners were also executed in transit prisons. In total, around 24 thousand people were killed. Most of their guilt wasn’t proven.
The Electronic Archive of the Ukrainian liberation movement has published lists of prisoners that were executed in the summer of 1941. They contain both original execution lists with resolutions of NKVD officers of completion, as well as lists made in the 1990s based on exhumations of graves, archive research and witness testimonies.
For example, the list of prisoners Lviv prison #4 carries the resolution of the local NKVD chief: “I authorize the execution of the enemies of the nation.”
In addition to the execution lists, the collection contains a number of memoirs and letters of Bohdan and Olena Kazanivskyi – NKVD prison inmates in Lviv who were lucky to escape.
“On Sunday, 22 June 1941, we heard cannon fire, sounds of aircraft engines, and after some time – the detonations of bombs. 5 NKVD officers carrying machine guns appeared in the corridor, where 10 prison cells were situated, one of which was mine. That morning, we were given our last “coffee” and a piece of bread. We did not receive anything to eat or drink up to the last day. At noon, a few prisoner were called out of their cells. I remembered the names of the three who I knew personally – they were young boys, Stepan Harchun, I.Ivasyk and a lawyer from Zolochev, Dr.Bezpalko. They were taken outside, and after a while we heard muffled bangs in the basement. We understand that the prisoners taken outside were being shot. The prisoners were called outside in groups during the day and night without end, and bangs kept coming from the basement. Suddenly, a silence came about in the night from Monday to Tuesday (23-24),” recalled Bohdan Kazanivskyi.
Most of the documents show the picture of executions in Lviv, Ternopil, and, partially – Ivano-Frankivsk and Cherkasy Oblasts.
The collection of documents is available on the website of E-archive of the liberation movement.
The Electronic archive of the liberation movement avr.org.ua is a joint project of the Center for Research of the liberation movement, Lviv University, and National Museum “Prison on Lontskoho.” Today, the E-archive contains copies of 23543 documents. Their mission is to make the past accessible.
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