Kateryna Vitko-Stakh’s excerpt is from a book of recollections of women who were members of the Ukrainian underground in the immediate postwar years, collected by Maria Pankiv in the 1990s. Pankiv is a journalist and member of the Ukrainian minority that has lived in Warsaw, Poland, since the 1990s. In those years, she worked for “Slovo,” a Ukrainian Archive in Warsaw. She interviewed a number of women who had been arrested in Poland for their involvement in the Ukrainian underground. Based on these conversations, she composed two volumes of their recollections. The chosen fragments reveal a story of Vitko-Stakh (liaison of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army under the pseudonym “Zozulya”) about her childhood, the beginning of the Second World War, life on the brink of Nazism and Communism, the autumn of 1944, the NKVD’s search for her, and her arrest. She received a sentence of ten years and was held in prisons in Rzeszów and Tarnów. In the presented fragments, you will find Vitko-Stakh’s memories on her family and life before the war, war, her prison experience, interrogations by the Polish security service in 1948, hunger strikes, and the power of prayers in prison.


Kateryna Vitko-Stakh memories, 1940s

Kateryna Vitko-Stakh
Printed in:
Vira, Nadiia, Liubov: Spohady zhinok / Pid red. M. Pankiv. T. 1. Varshava: Ukrainskyi Arkhiv, 2001.
Original language:

The Gift of Memory

The journey down the memory lane, to your young years, is always so touching and distressing. It has been over 50 years since the time when my peers and I engaged in the liberation effort. The time is so inexorable. The time is slipping away, it is stealing our memories. We are getting oldish, and we are taking our turns to pass away to learn the mystery of eternity. We stay in our accomplishments, in our children and great-children. My memory-based story below is meant for them.

I was lucky to be born in a beautiful place, in Ushkivtsi near Lubachiv. It is a small village located along the road running from Oleshychi to Dykovo Nove, Dykovo Stare, and so forth… The nature is fabulous here. There is a small Horay forest nearby extending through Mylkiv and down to Syniava, and further to Yaroslav region. The Pererva River was running across the village. It granted its freshness and serenity while joining Lubachivka, and then flew down to San River. 

The joy of life was disrupted by the war and my father’s death who passed away young. My mom was left with four kids, two sons and two daughters. My mother’s only brother, Ivan Myts from Oleshychi, had a big impact on our upbringing. He was extremely talented, and had a gift for wood-carving and painting. I remember some of his works such as paintings, carved pieces, portraits of Taras Shevchenko, Lesya Ukrainka, Ivan Franko, and other national outstanding personalities. He would often visit us. He read to us fairy-tales, poems, and told some interesting stories. He taught us we had to be brave, that we had to fight for our own, and love the native language, land, family, and home… The uncle was a genuine patriot, in both word and action. I know that he donated a piece of his land plot to have the Ukrainian House built. It eventually hosted the reading room, the cooperative, and the dairy-place. For that, he was persecuted by the Polish sanitation police. Long before the war, the uncle was part of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. He was convicted and imprisoned in a Polish concentration camp in Bereza Kartuska. He was released when the German-Polish war broke out. However, the joy of freedom did not last long because as soon as Bolshevicks came, he was arrested again. He served his term in Lviv, in Brygidky prison, and he was murdered there. 

Those were some turbulent times. Since we lived in the borderlands, the fronts (German, and Bolshevicks) rolled through our territories and brought along much misery and calamity. Our villages were robbed and ruined, our people were arrested and killed. Young people joined the underground resistance to fight for the liberation. The self-defense units were formed.

The first self-defense unit [Kushch] to be created was the one in Oleshychi. It mostly included the guys from Oleshychi, Ushkivtsi, Futory, Nove Dykovo, and Stare Dykovo. First, the appointed unit commandant was “Karmeliuk” from Futory, and then, there was “Hrab.” Later, the unit split into two, and the Dykovo unit led by Ivan Horaysky “Hayevyi”. Some members of the unit (“Hayevyi,” “Suk,” “Orel,” “Zhuravel,” “Perian,” and other experienced and armed riflemen, and also my sister Mariyka Witko “Rozha” who had the function of a medic in the unit) moved to the territory of Mylkiv ro prepare for winter time.

Kateryna Vitko-Stakh

Bloody Autumn of 1944

It took place one day, in the early hours, in late autumn of 1944. It was the first raid organized by the NKVD officers and the Polish militia in the Horay forest, where Oleshychi unit was stationed under the command of “Karmeliuk.” Twenty-four guys were surrounded and caught alive. They were very young people, not quite prepared for combat. None of them expected it to be their first, or even the last, battle. Those were mostly the guys from Nove Dykovo and Stare Dykovo, Ushkivtsi, Futory, and Oleshychi. They were all executed at the river by the road running from Oleshychi to Dykovo. 

In Horay, at a forest farm, there lived a forester Zavada with his family of a wife, a daughter Anna, and a 19-year-old son Mykola. During the raid, a father and a son, and two other fighters, managed to hide in a shelter arranged in the barn. The NKVD officers set the forest farmstead on fire, only letting the daughter Anna and a mother leave. In that bar, the people burnt down. They were Zavada and his son, Mykola Prokopenko, and Andriy Mozil (both coming from Ushkivtsi). Andriy was married, and he left behind a wife and two 15-months-old twin boys.

When it all calmed down, in the evening, we, the three girls maria Mahura, Maria Makarets, and myself, sneaked to the forest. I was looking for my sister. On the eve, I saw a Bolshevick carrying her backpack, and I assumed she had been killed. I was searching her among the dead. We approached the river, and there we saw… Oh, dear Lord! — our friends were lying in a row, resting in their last sleep. Their hands were tied with the barbed wire; their faces mutilated and hard to recognize.

The only survivors from that unit were the fighters who managed to leave to Mylkiv. 

At night, our people from the village buried the murdered fighters in a high mass grave, and placed a birch-tree cross on top. On the next day, militia came and shot at the grave, trying to wipe off the dead.

After that massacre, the situation got even more disturbing. Many local people, even entire families, fled trying to find refuge in other villages.

At that time, the commandant of Polish militia in Oleshychi was Jasko Mydel. He would roam around day and night, with his gang, to pillage and intimidate people.

They took everything from our neighbour Kuntsio because his son was missing. But the commandant’s brother, Bolko Mydel, could never be satisfied. He felt like wreaking havoc, trying to show who had the power. Eventually, he found his victim: he picked at Kuntsio: “Dawaj buty, bo zastrzelę!” [Give me your boots or I shoot you!]. the hothead and the cold soul did not accept any explanations or arguments. He wouldn’t hear, he wouldn’t believe, he was not willing to… He was the authority! And he shot down Hryhoriy Kuntsio.

Our house had already been pillaged empty. The clothes and food have been long expropriated. They took away the cow and the horse. We were only left with one poor cow that supported us. But soon after, they took it away, too. They only left a note saying they withdrew the cow because “Córka w lesie” [Your daughter is in the forest.]. The note was issued by the Polish administration, and signed by militia.

At Latin Christmas

At Latin Christmas 1944, militia had a good drinking spree and set out for Ushkivtsi.

— Urządzimy banderowcom Szczepana ([We shall arrange the St Stephans’ celebration to banderovites]), — shouted Jasko Mydel. — Będziemy banderowców kąpać w ich krwi! [We shall bathe the banderovites in their own blood!] (That’s according to what one of them shared later). And they took several carts to go to our village. First, down the road, they made a stop at the Fays. They took away their two daughters, Stefa and Mariyka. Then, they approached our house and surrounded it. Barely had I fallen asleep upon return from the meeting with Mariyka Mahura, when I was woken up by the knock on the window. Then, there was a sound of the smashed glass, the bangs on the door, and the gunshots. My mom, the youngest brother, and me rolled down on the floor. The bullets whistled above our heads. Then, as a bolt from the blue, the beast roared: “Witkowa, otwieraj! Tu komendant Milicji Obywatelskiej Mydel!” [Witko-woman! Open! It’s the commandant Mydel, of the Civil Militia!]. My mom raised from the floor to open the door but before she even tried, the entire gang of drunken militia-men forced the door in and burst into the house. Mydel yelled at my mom: “Gdzie ta banderowka? Już wróciła z lasu? Ja komendant, mam prawo ją zastrzelić! Jak złapię, zastrzelę! Słyszysz? Nad nią już odbył się sąd. Kto ją złapie, ten zastrzeli!” [Where is that Banderovite girl? Has she come back from the forest yet? I am the commandant, I have the right to shoot her down. When I catch her, I’ll shoot her! Can you hear me? The trial of her has already taken place! Whoever catches her, they will shoot her!]. And then he continued with threats and vulgar cursing. He approached me: “A ty jeszcze nie poszłaś do lasu?” [Have you gone to the forest yet?] (and here he also called other names). They dragged out my scared brother. They asked him where his sister was. The room felt cramped with yelling, hustle, and aggression. They dragged my mom and beat her. And Mydel would go: “Tę starą zastrzelcie, a tę ja zabieram” [You shoot that old one, and that one, I take along] and he pointed at me. I grabbed whatever I could to put on. They took me out of the household, and there were Stefa and Mariyka Fay, with their hands tied behind their backs. Other militia men were still inside. They rushed around and searched the house. Then, I heard a shot, followed by another one. I took to the ground, for fear they would also shoot at us. Suddenly, I saw how the militia men were taking the commandant Mydel outside. His face was all in blood. There was a huge havoc and screams: “Banderowcy, uciekaj, uciekaj!” [Banderovites! Run! Run!]. They kept carrying the commandant.

My head was spinning. “Holy Mother, have mercy!” I kept whispering. I look up and raise making use of the panic around. I run up to Stefa and Mariyka and shout to them to run away. I went first, they followed, to make it away from that yard as fast as we could to escape.

We fled towards the forest. We wangled through the snow and listened closely. This is where, amidst the forest silence, it dawned on me that those might have been our guys passing by who noticed what was happening in the village and wanted to save us.

When the neighbours were happy to see us, they told us that militia men took from them a blanket. They wrapped the commandant in and rushed to take him to Oleshychi, and then to Lubachev hospital. They were saying that “u Witkowej na podwórzu banderowcy przestrzelili komendanta” [at the Witkos, at the household, the Banderovites shot the commandant]. The doctors confirmed he was hot point blank because the skin around the wound was burnt. It was established that Mydel had a gun-shot accident and the bullet went right through the chin and out through the eye. His urge to dispose of the Banderovites ended in tragedy. Since then, that crowd and their “partners” have raged and avenged even more but they never dared to repeat the night raids.

Prison Prayer

Immediately on the first day, or rather on the first evening, something happened that I have never heard before, even after staying in several other prisons. In the evening, somewhere between 6 and 7 pm, after the head check, the ward chief shouted: “Do modlitwy!” [Start the prayer!]. Suddenly, the prison came alive, and the prayer started. It felt so weird when the voices started flowing from every cell, and merged into one common prayer. It sounded in a very special war. Hardly any choir in the world could achieve that phonation effect like that.

Wszelkie nasze dzienne sprawy,
Przyjmij litośnie Boże prawy.
A gdy będziemy zasypiali,
Niech cię nawet sen nasz chwali.
Odwracaj nocne przygody,
Od wszelakiej broń nas szkody.
Miej nas zawsze w swojej pieczy,
Stróżu i sędzio człowieczy.
[All of our daily actions,
Please, mercifully accept, the righteous God.
And even when we fall asleep,
May you be praised
Even in our dreams.
Prevent any night accidents,
Protect us from harm,
Have us always in your care,
Our guardian and human judge.]

I was touched to the bottom of my heart. I prayed and asked God to help, I asked for strength, not to break, and to be able to bear my cross, to be honest before God, before my people, and my conscience…

On that night I found it hard to fall asleep. And when I dozed off in the early hours, I was woken to a scream, the rattling keys and the screeching heavy metal door. The head check again, followed by the prayer song – all inmates were singing.

Kiedy ranne wstają zorze,
Tobie ziemia, Tobie morze,
Tobie śpiewa żywioł wszelki,
Bądź pochwalon Boże wielki.
Wielu snem śmierci upadli,
Co się wczoraj spać pokładli.
My się jeszcze obudzili,
Byśmy Cię Boże chwalili.
[When auroras rise in the morning,
To you the earth, to you the sea,
Every element sings to you,
May you be praised, dear Lord.
Many people sunk to death,
When they went to sleep last night,
We have woken up the same,
To praise you, dear Lord.]

I prayed and my tears were running down my cheeks. I was thinking of those sentenced to death. How many more of them will be killed next night, how many of them will join the angels, where there is no more suffering. I beg… “no more suffering…” I walk around the cell. They brought some black coffee and a quarter of black bread for breakfast. I could not eat; I only had some warm coffee. Shortly after, a prison guard called me.

Three friends after leaving prison in 1955: Stefania Gudzio, Kateryna Vitko Stakh, Stefania Salapata


The investigator was already waiting at the gate. They take me to the 4th floor. As I learnt later, all Ukrainian people were re-interrogated on that floor. We enter the room, where two people were already waiting for me. The convoy man told me: “Ja — Michał Bajowski” [I am Michal Bajowski.]. The other two also said something but I could not make it out. One of them took personal details. Then, he looked up and stared at me: “Mam nadzieję, że będziesz mówiła tylko prawdę, odpowiadając na wszystkie moje pytania” [I hope you will be telling only the truth when answering my questions.]. And then: “Ty należałaś do OUN i byłaś w lesie z UPA? Z kim masz kontakt na Zachodzie?” [Have you been the OUN member and stayed in the forest with the Ukrainian Insurgency Army? Who do you keep contacts with in the West?]. The questions kept pouring one after another. He started calling the soldier code names of commanders, of a hundred’s unit leads, of the district leads. He asked every detail about the Command in our region, especially about “Zalizniak” and “Kalynovych.”

To all the questions, I kept answering: “I know nothing, about anyone. I haven’t seen anything. I have no contact with anyone. I do not know.” Then, he asked: “To dlaczego ty uciekłaś do Krakowa? Od kogo dostałaś dokumenty?” [Then why did you flee to Krakow? Where did you get the IDs?]. I realized they knew many things about me. I answered that I lodged the documents myself. As to other questions, I kept silent, and never admitted anything. Each answer could entail other questions and squeeze other information for them. I knew that as soon as I started admitting some things, it would be hard to get out of that. The interrogations were getting more severe, they beat and tortured me. Bajowski went loose the most. He would brandish with the rubber whip as a madman (the whip had a rod inside, and a piece of metal on the tip). He would punch wherever he could: in the head, in the back, the arms, and legs… Raging pain, helplessness, and more beating and punches… Some screams that I was not able to make out any longer, with no understanding of the things around. The only thing I felt like becoming small and hiding somewhere, so that they left me alone, to avoid the beating.

At some point, the butcher paused. But in a moment, he jumped on the chair and quickly spooled my long and thick hair on his arm, and lifted me up. He kicked wild. I was suffocating from pain and punches. Then, he must have got tired and let me down. I dropped on the floor and my executioner continued raging. He swung his blood-stained hand with the hair clumps and pieces of skin stuck to it. He cursed me, pulled the clumps off and threw them at me. It took some more time for Bajowski to try his torture tricks. After several hours of torture, they dragged me to the cellar and threw me there on a coal pile like some sort of junk. I was lying face down, I could barely move, and my body anguished with pain.

I stayed there, half-conscious, until late at night. Then, through the doze, I heard some quiet words: “Zozulia.” I could not recognize anyone but I looked back and saw him: “Oh, God!”. It was a fighter from one of our units, “Samchuk” (Ivan Karkhut from Teplytsi). How is he here, in that corridor? He recognized me. But instead of joy, I was wrapped with fear: what if he gives me away? How do I know his tactics in the interrogations? “I don’t know you,” I said to him. It meant that we allegedly did not know each other in the investigation. He answered: “I don’t know you, either.” I sighed with relief. He came closer to the bars and asked: “Are you hungry?”. I was so feeble that I could hardly answer back. He had a piece of bread with him and tried to throw it at me, but he failed. The bread flew over and beyond. I did not even look where it landed. “Samchuk” disappeared the same as he came, and I have never seen him since.

Some time after midnight, they called me to the interrogation again but I was not able to stand up. Two guards came up and dragged me off that pile of coal. They tried to lift me up but was not able to stand on my legs, and I shrieked from the piercing pain and fell. My body ached, and I suffered the intolerable pain at every touch. They lifted me again and took me outside. The Butcher Bajowski and other two men were waiting there. He immediately started cursing me and ordered: “Szybko na górę!” [Rush upstairs!]. That meant going up the stairs to the 4th floor where they conducted their interrogations. He pushed me in the back, I fell down, and he started kicking me on the lower back with his boots. Every step I climbed was accompanied with the kicking. I crawled to the 2nd or to the 3rd floor and fell, more dead than alive. It made Bajowski rage, and he went on whipping me as hard as he could ordering me to stand up. But I could not. I was limpen. My executioner was getting even more outrageous and ready to kill me. In the end of the corridor, there was a woman (may be, a cleaning lady?). Desperate from my helplessness, I started calling her, screaming that I wish that butcher shot me. I did not know who to ask for help. That woman must have been scared and ran away. Then I screamed: “God, help me! Dear God!”. It made my executioner even more infuriated. He would punch and kick me more, I can’t even remember how long it lasted.

They brought me back to senses by pouring a bucket of cold water on me. Then, they lifted me and made me crawl on. I crawled with my hands and could hardly manage another staircase. Bajowski was impatiently rushing me and kicked with his boots. Eventually, when I reached the room where my torture of interrogation was supposed to continue, he pushed me so hard that I flew across the room and only landed at the tiled stove, and cut open my sore head on the right. The blood was spilling hard. I was reduced to a pulp and overwhelmed on the floor. The shriek: “Wstawaj!” [Get up!]. I was lifted and thrust on the chair, and they started beating me, two of them together, all over. I was lying there helpless. They tore the clothes off me, and my shoes, and kept beating me half-naked. I was not feeling anything any more, I did not even cover myself. They would pour the water onto me and yell: “Mów, gdzie chowają się twoi koledzy!” [Tell us where your companions are hiding!]. The only thing I could barely utter was “I don’t know.” They stopped the beating. Then, they started talking among themselves, and shortly after, tossed me face down, and continued beating on my feet and the heels. What an unbearable pain! I was suffocating from it. The head kept bleeding, and in my mind, I kept praying: “Dear God, I’m not going to survive! Help me!”. Then, there were more yells above my head: “Mów! Mów, zacięta banderowko!” [Speak! Speak, you stubborn Banderovite!]. They mostly wanted me to tell them where our fighters were hiding who moved to Western lands following our people displaced during the “Wisla” operation.

Each blow on the heels reverberated with the outrageous pain in my head, and my torturers knew that. I kept repeating half-conscious: “I don’t know, I don’t know…”. how long has it taken? Felt like eternity. They kept beating, asking, and pouring water on me to bring me to senses, and then they continued on, and on… They were always three. Finally, one of them said: “Ja nie mam sumienia więcej bić” [I don’t think we should continue to beat her.]. And he stopped beating me, but Bajowski still did not have it enough, and wanted more blood and tortures. He was raging he was not able to beat anything out of me or find anything out. He said: “W moich rękach mężczyźni śpiewają, a ty, zacięta banderowko, nic nie gadazh!” [Even men start singing their testimonies in my hands, and you, the stubborn Banderovite, are not speaking!]. I had bells ringing in my ears, my head was spinning, all of my face was covered in blood, and the body was one sore wound. Half-conscious, I weakly whispered: “Jesus Christ! Jesus, save me!”. Bajowski’s face distorted in a miserable grimace, and he sizzled: “Jesus is a f…”. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!”, I muttered. Bajowski replied to that: “To ja jestem Boh. Jak ja zechcę, to ty do rana zdechniesz i nikt nie będzie wiedział jak. Ja to mogę, słyszysz ty… ja Boh! Ja!!!!” [I am the God! If I want, you will be dead by the morning, and no one will ever know how. I can do it! You get it? I am God! It’s me!!!]. I kept silent, powerless, and I could only utter: “Jesus! Jesus! Lord, have mercy!”. I could not fell anything, and lied there in dirt and blood…

At midnight (I think now it was midnight) the chief of Security Department came to inspect things. Later, I learned that his name was Osetek. I am certain that it was God who brought him there on that savage night. He made him get out of his warm bed to save me from death. I have not seen him, I only understood it later, when everyone raised and reported to him, it was clear it was their chief. I was lying there moaning and asked for some water… he approached me, stayed there for a moment in silence, and then told them to give me some water. One of them came up with a bottle of water and poured it into my mouth. I opened my eyes and saw a man above. “Czy złapaliście ją z bronią w ręku?” [Have you caught her with the gun in her hands?]. They answered: “Nie” [No.]. “Czy złapaliście ją na gorącym uczynku, że zabiła kogoś?”. “Nie”. [Has she killed anyone? – No.] And next he goes: “Taką młodą kobietę doprowadziliście do takiego stanu? Z mężczyzną tak się nie postępuje. Ona jest konająca, co z nią będzie do rana? Pomyśleliście o tym?” [You have brought such a young girl to this condition. One does not even do it to men. She is dying, what’s going to happen to her by the morning? Have you thought about it?].

He also said some other things but I could not hear any more. The humming sound and the noise in my head drowned all voices. Somebody covered me up with my clothes. Two of them lifted me by the armpits and dragged me along the corridor, then downstairs and back to the cellar. They threw me to the room where all the sewage and waste was disposed from the bucket. There was a canal that ended with a window hole. They closed the door… they must have hoped that I would half-consciously roll down to that groove, and they would later declare that the girl committed suicide. I lied down on the cold concrete floor for some time, and it was February. Coming back to my senses, I felt extremely thirsty. I moaned and begged: “Water, drink…”.

At that time, one of the guards heard my moans and entered the cellar. He lit the room with the flashlight and saw me there. I must have been in such a non-humane condition that he got scared and rushed upstairs while leaving the door open in a hurry. I did not quite realize what I was doing but I started crawling on my belly to the exit. I crawled on the last leg on and on… That must have been a kitchen, or something, I am not sure how I got there, whether I saw or felt that bucket. I crawled closer and lapped down whatever was in. I am not sure what liquid that was, probably, water, or may be something else. I could not stop drinking…

In a blink of an eye, two guards were next to me. They moved the bucket aside, and lifted me. They wanted to put me standing but failed, I was not able to stand. They took me barefoot and half-naked and kept me up to bring me back to my senses. All of a sudden, I felt like I was cuddling in my mom’s arms!… And I am telling her how I was tortured. I am telling my mom how good it was that it was just a dream, that it was all happening in my dream… I opened my eyes and saw the walls, the unfamiliar walls, and some people holding me under my arms. They asked me whether I knew where I was. The guards said we were in Rzesow, at the Investigation Unit. They took me to cell No.14, where I stayed initially. They put me on the bare bunk, and then, when they noticed my coat, they placed me on one half of it and covered with another one. There was also a head kerchief. They wrapped my bare bloody feet with it. I learnt about it all later, from one of them.

I stayed there for a long time, and I could not move. The next-door cell had Polish men from AK and WiN. Later, when I started walking again, leaning on the wall, they told me I was groaning hard and kept asking for water. They could not sleep, they did not know what was happening behind the wall. They started knocking on the door, and asking the guard to check on me and help me. I could not remember any of it. For me, time did not matter at all. I was not able to see anything because the face was so swollen. I hardly opened one eye and saw my poor black hands, and the swollen blood-stained fingers. That is when I came to realize what they did to me. I could not speak, there was a lump in my throat. I could only cough out the dry blood. I looked down on the ground. It was concrete, and full of snow blown by the wind through the hole in the window all boarded up. This is when I felt how cold it was, and the cell only had me and the rats.

My solitude did not bother me. At midday, a guard came in and greeted me with the following words: “Ty zacięta banderowko ukraińska, zdechniesz tu, już niewiele ci zostało” [You stubborn Banderovite, you will drop dead here, you don’t have it long.]. A large can from the US soup was standing near me. It was supposed to function as a bowl. At some point, they poured in some coffee, and then added some soup for lunch, and all of had long gone bad and frozen. He said: “Dlaczego nie zjadłaś? Jak to wszystko wyliżesz, to dostaniesz świeże jedzenie” [Why have not you surrendered? When you lick all of that out, you will get some more food.]. I have not felt hungry, probably because of the high fever. I only dreamt of one thing – to have some water or coffee.

Hunger Strike

It took place before Easter. Local Polish women received the Easter packages. Ukrainian women received none. Most of us either did not have any family left, or they stayed far away. Or, sometimes, they had no idea of our whereabouts. Solidarity is a big thing in the prison. Polish ladies shared with us their festive treats. But our festive mood was impeded by Inglot, an old lady, who said she had a premonition that they (prison management) could punish us and take away the packages. It was decided to eat it all fast at breakfast and get full, and the remaining food staff could be hidden. I remember how Iryna Vovk hid several lemons behind the wooden pillow, inside her personal belongings. Emma, who had the TB, climbed the 3rd bunk on top and wanted to hide some sugar and fat there. But at that very moment, the door swung open and a prison chief, an investigator, and some more men entered the cell. They when they caught Emma so off-guard, they said: “A ta kawka co tam robi? Co chowasz?” [What about that gaper over there? What are you trying to hide?]. Poor Emma went down, and they took away all the food from her. The investigators Sikora and Swiderski were raging. They punished our cell with hunger: they only gave us bread and water that we could take only from the bucket. They did not want to give us any hot water or coffee. We protested and started our full hunger strike, we refused to eat anything. Every day, they brough a quarter of the bread loaf for each of us, and the pile kept growing. But none of us touched that bread, although we were starving. That continued for some three or four days. Eventually, they called Liuda Kot, she was in charge of our cell. They asked her why we started the full hunger strike. Liuda answered that we had been punished several times: they took away all the Easter treats, we did not receive any warm water or coffee, and we were made to drink cold water, and also from the bucket, which was unsanitary. They also took away the bench from the cell so that we could not sit, we were not allowed to touch the beds, we were not allowed to sit on the floor, and we were made to stay standing from the morning “Appell” [head check] until the evening head-check. That was so many punishments, and also when we were not guilty of anything.

It was Sunday. We were kneeling and whispered the Holy Mess. All of a sudden, the door opened and the special unit inspection entered. At the sight of such high-ranking prison authorities, you needed to stand to attention and report. But none of us moved. We kept praying. They stayed there watching us for several minutes, and left. When we finished the prayer, and stood up, the door swung open and several buckets of cold water was poured in. they ordered to dry that floor within 15 minutes. We got to collect that water with whatever we could to finish by the deadline. After that, another check-up was held in our cell. Each of us had their own belongings for women stuff. It was all extremely poor, especially for the Ukrainian prisoners as they have been imprisoned for a long time then. The stuff got all worn out, and we did not have anywhere to get anything new. During the inspection in the cell, there was also a lieutenant (or, may be, a captain?) attending. His eyes blazed red with fury when he searched through the seams on the clothes. I recall when he found a small image of Our Lady of perpetual Help on Iryna Vovk-Kulchytska (and she cherished it like the most precious treasure throughout the entire investigation), he turned mad and hurled it down and stamped on it. We faced a sadist, dreadful and vile. We were all indignant but there was nothing we could do: it was the prison. Each of us has already undergone the difficult investigation procedure. Our bodies were exhausted in the dark dungeons, and that hunger strike undermined our health even more. Three or four days later, I was not even able to get up from bed for the head-check. Others did not feel well, either. Some women had a fever. Having to stand all day was especially unbearable. In order to survive that torture, we leaned on each other, shoulder to shoulder, like the geese. During the morning head-check, Liuda announced she was not able to get up from her bed any more, and others had a fever. Eventually, in the end of the day, they brought us some tepid coffee, for the first time in a long time. Men also joined our hunger strike, to express their solidarity. Prison authorities had to give in. 

Fordon, a women’s prison 

We were brought to Fordon. Everyone made it here, except for Iryna Vovk who stayed in a hospital in Grudziadz, after a complicated surgery.

Fordon is a well-known women’s prison from before the war. They brought here women from all over Poland. For three days, they were taking us outside, to the yard, to fill in the mattresses with the straw. It was a large yard with stacks of straw and many female inmates.

And there it happened…

Here, I met my mother. No one punished us here, no one separated us. We were sitting next to each other and sharing what happened. We were happy to be alive and to stay together. After three days of the quarantine, the newly arrived inmates were sorted and allocated to small and big cells. We were put on the ground floor in a large cell, for almost 40 inmates, with political prisoners, both Poles and Ukrainians. Men were found only among the prison staff. Small cells usually had more dangerous inmates. They were not allowed to work. Those cells were located in the basements, in the cellars. They had inmates with long terms and under strict regiment. As far as I know, there were also some of our girls: Iryna Tymochko “Khrystia”, Liuda Kot “Burlachka”, Katrusia Kosarevych “Nina”, Lesia Lebedovych “Zahrava”, Stefa Onyshkevych (wife of “Orest”), Liuba Bohachevska, Zenia Datsko, Maria Huk, Yevhenia Vakhnianyn-Sukhoronchak, Stefa Kunytska-Bodnar, and others. The others worked in various workshops or in the prison’s general services. We found work extremely necessary for us, especially when we did not have any help from families. Thanks to it, we could earn something, and the time went by faster. Some of the earnings was spent for living, and some money was deposited to the “hard” account. After release, inmates could use the money for their travel expenses. The remaining money could be used to buy some small things in the prison’s canteen. There, you could buy some food stuff (fat, sugar), soap, toothpaste, and the like. We could also help those inmates who were not receiving anything, and who had it extremely hard.

Kateryna Vitko-Stakh with her mother Maria Vitko

Related sources:

Documents (4)

Image for The decision to terminate the investigation against Janina Knobloch, liaison officer of the UPA in Poland, Warsaw, 1947
The decision to terminate the investigation against Janina Knobloch, liaison officer of the UPA in Poland, Warsaw, 1947
The notification states that the investigation into the death of Janina Knobloch (an arrested woman that the document mentions) was discontinued. She poisoned herself with strychnine in a bathroom during her interrogation. She was a liaison officer of OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) District II. The document was prepared by an investigation officer of MBP (Ministry of Public Security).
Image for Agent “Marysia’s” report about activity of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in postwar Poland, 1940s
Agent “Marysia’s” report about activity of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in postwar Poland, 1940s
This report, written by someone described as agent “Marysia,” is about Don (Wolodomyr Perezylo) and a woman identified as ‘S.’ The document discusses a romantic relationship (or perhaps an infatuation) between ‘S’ (possibly an OUN-B liaison in Poland – region V near Lublin/Zamość) and Don, a member of OUN security forces. The report was most likely written soon after the war. It is not completely clear what the purpose of writing this document was. The report was likely written in prison, quite possibly by ‘S’ in exchange for some favors from the Polish security forces. Yet the details that she provided regarding Don were not too harmful. Don appears as a person who...
Image for Interrogation of Ivan Nestorak, Jaworzno, July 25, 1947
Interrogation of Ivan Nestorak, Jaworzno, July 25, 1947
This is an excerpt from the transcript of a long interrogation of Ivan Nestorak and his activities in the Ukrainian underground. Based on the information he provided, a female liaison was murdered by the Ukrainian insurgency. Her name was Maria Hac, and she was part of the UPA’s medical service. She had an STD and asked for money for treatment. She contacted Polish authorities MO (Citizens’ Militia) or UB (Department of Security) in Tomaszów Lubelski. She was murdered by the units of SB (Sluzhba Bezpeky) OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). Some potential topics that can be discussed based on this source are gender-based violence in the Ukrainian underground, treatment of Ukrainian women by...
Image for Vira Szot’s rehabilitation request, Warsaw-Czẹstochowa, 1994
Vira Szot’s rehabilitation request, Warsaw-Czẹstochowa, 1994
Vira Szot was a Ukrainian woman and UPA liaison. After World War II, she arrived in southern Poland, where she set up transfer points for UPA members trying to reach Western Europe. Her arrest came on June 7, 1947. She was imprisoned at Jaworzno, Mokotów, and Fordon. She received a death sentence that was commuted to fifteen years, perhaps because she agreed to collaborate. She was released in 1956. She stayed in Poland after her release and in the 1990s, after the fall of Communism, applied for rehabilitation. In a letter from 1960 or 1961, which she called a confession and which is still in her IPN (Institute of National Remembrance) file, she...
Show more Collapse all

Images (0)

Show more Collapse all

Videos (0)

Show more Collapse all

Audio (0)

Show more Collapse all

Related modules (1)

Many stories could illustrate the struggles of Ukrainian women as members of the Ukrainian underground during World War II. One is the story of Marija Savchyn, who in 1939, at the age of fourteen, joined the female youth section (iunky) of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Orhanizatsiya Ukrayins’kykh Natsionalistiv [OUN]), which spearheaded the Ukrainian nationalist movement. While in high school during the Second World War in Przemyśl, Savchyn joined the Ukrainian underground...
Worked on the material:
Research, comment

Anna Muller

Translation into English

Svitlana Bregman

Text transcript

Asya Pavlenko


Maria Paniv’s collection

Comments and discussions