Village of Strubowiska

The following article was collected and submitted by G. Warholic
and is ©1996 by G. Warholic
Any unauthorized duplication or use is strictly forbidden.

Strubowiska is the village where my grandfather George (Jurko) Warcholak was born. He left the village in 1910 and left behind, I believe, quite a few family members. Some of the family came to America for a while and then returned to Europe before World War I.

The Strubowiska story is a tragedy. This village was the very first victim of the Bieszczady Civil War. The following account was reported to me by Jerzy M[name withheld by G. Gressa] in a letter dated December 12, 1987. During my trip to Poland in August 1987, Jerzy took me to the village site and he said he was familiar with a tragedy associated with the village. He first thought that there was a story about the Ukrainian Patriots Army (UPA) being in the village and that a girl in the village fell in love with one of the soldiers. As he related the story, the family and villagers didn't want her to marry the soldier and so he was killed, by the family or villagers. According to the story, the UPA retaliated and destroyed the entire village. Later, Jerzy did more research and did not mention the previous story. He was however quite successful and found some references and provided the following information.

In September 1944 the Nazis were thrown out of the Bieszczady district by the Soviet troops. The administrative center for Strubowiska became the small town of Cisna, where the local authorities were soon organized. In Cisna, the police station - citizen's militia - was formed. Many young men coming from the Bieszczady area joined the unit. The local population, happy that the war was over for them, had settled down for a peaceful life.

But, the Soviet troops were moving west, clearing the southern territory of Poland of Nazis. These Nazis were in the Carpathian region looking for shelter for their many armed men. They were the remains of the XIV SS Division "Galizien", famous for their cruelty. The division was formed by the Germans from Ukrainian Nationalists in the Soviet occupied territories in 1941. In June 1944 this division was completely defeated by the Soviet Army in the Wolyn district. Only 5,000 men, one third of the division escaped with their lives. A large number of these survivors went to the Bieszczady. They organized during the war the Ukrainian Patriots Army "UPA" and considered the Carpathian district very suitable for their underground activities. As the civilian nationalist authority started its operation the Ukrainians Union - the body formed by Germans in the 1930's- was collaborating with the Nazis Abwehra.

The refugees from the Soviet territory were collaborating with German officers and clerks of civil administration, members of Nazis SS troops and members of so called "einstatz groups" -specially formed units for extermination of prominent people of the occupied nations, and other individuals considered as war criminals. All these then were looking for safe shelter. The ideological argument for their activity was that "the third World War will come soon, so it will be the war of the West with the Soviet Union, we have to wait for it here".

The above mentioned and briefly described local population felt very comfortable in the district which was mountainous and well covered by forest and guarded by small groups of the Soviet Army and posts of civil militia.

The Polish People's Army -about 400 thousand men- was fighting at that time in central and northern Poland. In this situation the Ukrainian Nationalists started the formation of the powerful underground army, covered by the Carpathian forest. Later in 1946 and 1947 this army will be fighting a Civil War with the Polish forces, but not only in the Carpathian district, but in the whole western Polish country territories. In southern Poland the fighting included the Czechoslovakian Army and the Soviet Army.

In 1944 some "signaling" episodes happened (e.g., in September 1944 the UPA group murdered in Baligrod 42 men during Holy Mass in the Greek-Catholic church. A bit earlier, a large group of people going back home after Holy Mass in the Roman Catholic church in Komancza were murdered by the UPA. My brother Stanislaw M[name withheld by G. Gressa] was one of the men murdered at that time.

During the winter period 1944-1945 the different UPA groups left their posts dispersed in the forest and concentrated the small units into larger ones. These larger units they called "sotnia", which means "hundreds".

From the forest Jawornik, laying south of the large village Wetlina, the "sotnia" commanded by Weselyj (gay) went to Strubowiska for their winter quarters. "Weselyj" - the proper name is unknown, was a soldier born in the Tarnopol district. He was earlier a noncommissioned officer in the SS Galizien Division and was well known for cruelty against the Poles as well as the Ukrainians. In the UPA he first commanded a group, then a platoon and then a "sotnia". In February 1945, part of his unit attacked the militia post at Zatwarnica, a village northeast of Wetlina located on the San River. Four M.O. men were killed during this attack.

This incident alarmed the Soviet Unit staying on rest in Wetlina. The M.O. post in Cisna was also informed secretly by civilians about the Strubowiska situation (the behavior of Weselyj wasn't liked by the Strubowiska inhabitants). Weselyj's unit also started the forced mobilization of young men into the UPA army. The information from the civil population permitted the militia to plan to free the group of youth "recruited" by the "recruiting" group of "Weselyj". The operation against the "sotnia" in Strubowiska was prepared.

On March 21, 1945 two companies of the Soviet infantry surrounded the village of Strubowiska. The third company remained as a reserve under the commanding officer Colonel Stiepashkin.

In the staff of "sotnia" they had a pope. [probably a Greek Orthodox priest] He wrote in his diary: "Early morning 21 March our patrol gave the information that militia men from Cisna with the Bolsheviks are just in the village of Krzywe. After a short conference with his adjutant, the company surgeon Horislaw and the pope, the commandant decided that on the first day of Spring a good lesson is necessary to be given.....No one expected the big forces of enemy".

Close to seven in the morning the village was tightly surrounded by the Soviet troops and militia men. It was a frosty day. The soldiers were lying on the open field. One hour of time was given to the UPA men to leave the houses in the village and give up to the surrounding troops. The idea was to save the property and lives of the civilian population. Until twenty past eight no reply was given. The Colonel decided to give an additional hour to surrender. The civilian population was informed that they can leave the houses and village behind the line of the surrounding troops. A few women with children in their arms run out of the houses. When they reached the line of lying soldiers some of them got up to help. The machine guns fired from the windows of the houses killing the women, children and some of the standing soldiers. Only one little boy survived.

The red flash [flare] shot by the commanding Colonel was a signal to attack. The militia men from Cisna knowing the houses where the UPA groups had their winter posts, were the guides. The battle for each of these houses started. They were all quite well prepared for the defense. One of these houses, containing the ammunition stores, exploded during the battle. The men of both fighting groups who were nearby, lost their lives.

At evening, most of the village was cleared of UPA men. Only a few houses were still shooting fortresses. The Soviet flashes [flares] were lighting the battlefield and permitted them to observe the enemy. Suddenly they saw a group of women running out of the village. But they were suspicious since the women were all without children. In the light of a flash, one of the soldiers saw the machine gun in the hands of the "woman". The fire opened by both sides, there were victims. The rest of the "women" - escaped back to the houses.

Now the UPA men lighted the houses. In the light given by the burning village they tried to escape, running and shooting. Also all the Soviet soldiers were shooting. To close off the battle field the reserve company was used. Only a few of the UPA men survived the battle.

In the early morning of March 22 , the fight in Strubowiska was over. The 84 killed UPA men were found on the battle field. All the houses were completely burned. The attacking forces had only a few soldiers killed, including Captain Golovienko who commanded the reserve company. The soldiers spent the whole day of March 22 looking for guns and ammunition.

At evening the Soviet troops were leaving the ruins of the village, moving to the east. With them, using the horse sliding cars, the civilian population of Strubowiska was leaving their village. They were bringing with them the little personal property that remained after the battle. All went to Ustrzyki Gorne, from where they were transported to the Soviet Union.

In his report a Soviet officer wrote: "They have on their faces the reflection of tragedy, of pain".

At the end of April 1945, the troops of Colonel Stiepashkin left the district. A group of the Polish Army was posted at Cisna. For these soldiers a very difficult time was to come. The civil war for clearing the whole territory of enemy was before them. The Civil War was in 1946-1947. At that time the village of Strubowiska didn't exist.

An author of a report writes: "only a small chapel remained after the battle".

"Weselyj" (Gay) was killed in battle.

Today the village site is called Strzebowiska on Polish maps.

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