Wednesday 6 June 2018

Ivano-Frankivsk in balmy summer weather

After Bucacs we went on, through green countryside glowingly fertile, to one of my favourite towns, Ivano-Frankivsk, known till 1962 as Stanislau or Stanisławów. 

It was founded as a Polish fortress in 1663 and was named after the Polish hetman Stanisław "Rewera" Potocki. Like Bucsacs, it became a largely self governing city and was later incorporated into the Austrian empire in the first partition of Poland.

In the 1870s the Jewish population of Stanislau was twice that of the Poles. Jews continued to outnumber Poles until the Germans invaded in 1941. Now the Poles, Jews, Germans and Armenians have gone and the descendants of Ukrainian peasants have taken their places. It is a similar story throughout the region, in Slovakia, Czechia, Poland, Transylvania and the Banat.

As in Buczacz and everywhere in Ukraine the Jews of Stanislau were massacred by the Germans, with the assistance of Ukrainian militias who hoped that the defeat of Poland and Bolshevik Russia made possible an independent Ukraine. In fact, had the Germans defeated the USSR in 1941, which they would probably have done had Hitler stuck to his plan and attacked Moscow in August 1941, the Germans intended to starve to death the Ukrainians, Russians and Belorussians under their rule.

The Poles were expelled following a decision at Potsdam in 1945 to which Clement Attlee was party. It was felt that a "humane and orderly exchange of population" was necessary to tidy up the ethnic mosaic which had led to genocide. 

The ethnic cleansing of Eastern Europe in 1945 completed a process which had began in 1923 with the expulsions of Turks and Greeks from their ancestral homelands, Lord Curzon voicing his disapproval. Eastern Europe ceased to be the familar ethnic mosaic and became a series of Procrustean nation states. Within five years from 1945, meanwhile, what became a very great wave of immigrants entered Western Europe from the colonies and former colonies.

The exchange of population in Poland and Ukraine was neither humane nor orderly. It was the culmination of the conflict between Ukrainians and Poles that started in the First World War. The Jews, meanwhile, until 1918 had usually preferred the Hapsburg monarchy to either the Polish or Ukrainian national cause and in many cases had preferred Zionism or Bolshevism.

I came to Ivano-Frankivsk on my first visit because the map showed it to be a convenient place to stop the night on a journey from the Mararmures to Lviv, but it is very well worth a visit for its own sake. It was a very charming place to be on a warm, blossom strewn, languorous evening, the first evening in June. 

It was International Children's Day, a Stalinist feast day that came into existence in a ukase from the Women's International Democratic Federation's Congress in Moscow in 1949. This why we had a day off from work in Romania, where it is now a bank holiday. Each little town on our route had competitions and a song festival for children.

In Ivano-Frankivsk there were singers performing charmingly vapid songs in the two main squares, surrounded by teenagers of a well-behaved, virginal type. It had that summer festival provincial town drowsiness that we all recognise. Also three fine baroque churches, an absolutely magnificent Art Deco town hall, with a beautiful clock tower, tree-lined Hapsburg boulevards, full these days of coffee shops. 

It gets no tourists at all and this alone makes its price above rubies. 

We found a good restaurant (Ukraine has many good ones) and everything is very cheap when you come from the EU.

My hotel (the Nadiya - very comfortable and smart, three stars, EUR 20 bed and breakfast) was full of sportsmen and some German women painters taking part in an arts festival. 

A peaceful, forgotten place. The young people want to leave and go west and now, thanks to the deal with the EU last year, they easily can. The future of Ukraine is not bright.


  1. Yes - Mr Hitler intended to starve many of the Slavs (including the Ukrainians) to death, and make slaves of the rest. One can not understand the self destructive mania of the modern German establishment without understanding the utterly evil nature of the National Socialist regime that the German establishment is reacting against. I think that Austria is more mentally stable - contrary to what is often said most Austrians do NOT deny the terrible crimes of the past, but they have not been driven mad by them either. There is much less of a "our forefathers committed crimes of terrible evil - therefore we must destroy ourselves now" (it is the second part of this statement that is wrong - not the first part), attitude in Austria. As for the Ukrainians in this town now - no one (no Jew or Pole - or anyone) should begrudge them the town they have lived in all their lives. It is their town now - and they have my best wished, they are not responsible for what their fathers (indeed now their grandfathers) did. God bless the people living in the town now - and their children, and may the souls of those people murdered in the past be safe in the hands of God.

  2. They are not responsible for the deeds of their grandfathers - who were themselves lied to. Mr Hitler did indeed to starve many of the Ukrainians to death and keep the rest as slaves - but "Stalin" had already done this (so many millions of Slavs had already been murdered by the Marxists), and it was too horrible for many people to understand that the socialists Hitler and "Stalin" were essentially the same - some people looked desperately at the National Socialist Adolf Hitler for help (like a drowning man clutching at a SNAKE). The message was "help murder the Jews and we, the Nazis, will help you" - it was a lie, and it was a wicked lie. But some desperate people believed it. As you say - had the National Socialists won they would have turned on the very people who had helped them. There is also an old history here - the Ukrainian Cossacks had risen against the Poles centuries before (that Hollywood whitewash film "Taras Bulba") - they promised the Polish civilians that if they let them (the Cossacks) into the towns they would only murder the Jews, the Poles let them in. But then the Cossacks did not "just" murder the Jews - they murdered the Poles as well (on the ground that they were Catholics - not Orthodox Christians). Someone who says "help me - I only intend to murder X group" is not to be trusted. Still everyone (the murdered and the murderers) is dead now - they all face the final judgement. Those people who are alive are NOT to be blamed.

  3. Excellent review.
    I'll put it on my bucket list.

  4. "Eastern Europe ceased to be the familiar ethnic mosaic and became a series of Procrustean nation states." Question is, now that we are in bombarded with the 'tolerance' and 'diversity' training, I really wonder whether that is that something to cherish. It does create tremendous tensions, no matter the propaganda, and ultimately, it makes one more isolated, both ethic peoples and transplants.I noticed that you place the fate of the Jewish minorities at the center of your notes about Ukraine. Pity, not everything is about the Jews.