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A Drohobych diptych.

The parallel lives of Bruno Schulz and Stepan Bandera.


MANY OF THE borders have changed. You may wish to consult old maps. Galicia is a region where people are born and die in different countries without ever leaving their village. Ukraine’s Drohobych — in Bruno Schulz’s time the Polish Drohobycz — is now seventy-five kilometres beyond Poland’s eastern frontier.

Populations have changed. In 1939 the ethnic makeup of Drohobycz was 26% Ukrainian, 33% Polish and 40% Jewish. Like Bruno Schulz, many of those Jews identified as Poles. The tides of history, so lethal over those lands, swept away the Jewish identity of Bruno’s enchanted town. By 1959 the town was 70% Ukrainian; most of the rest were Russian, with Poles and Jews together making up about 5%. After Ukrainian Independence in 1991, the Russians were not welcome and moved elsewhere.

Many place names and spellings have changed. Before western Ukraine was part of interwar Poland, the so-called Second Republic, Galicia had been lightly ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire since the 1772 partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Austrians called the principal city Lemberg, but it was Lwów to the Poles, L’vov to the Russians and is now the Ukrainian L’viv.

In all the to-ing and fro-ing, it is to be noted that the Russians did not hold sway in western Ukraine until Soviet rule — that is, after WWII. The Ukrainian peasantry of what was then eastern Poland did not suffer the infamous famine inflicted upon those, including many Russians, at the mercy of Stalin’s Soviet administration.

Unlike most other Ukrainians, these people do not owe allegiance to the Orthodox Patriarch of Kiev, let alone the doubly foreign Kirill I of Moscow.

The salient fact of that historical Russian absence meant that, unlike most other Ukrainians, the sense of identity in the old Polish domains evolved in close association with the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, an autonomous Church created at the end of the sixteenth century using Byzantine rites but in full communion with the Pope. These people do not owe allegiance to the Orthodox Patriarch of Kiev, let alone the doubly foreign Kirill I of Moscow.

That Stepan Andriyovych Bandera, the most potent embodiment of western Ukrainian self-determination, was the son of a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, only anointed his sense of destiny—but he was assassinated by the KGB in 1959. Bruno Schulz, the great writer, critic and artist, was the son of a Jewish merchant. He was killed, almost casually, by a Nazi in 1942.

Let me tell you how the posthumous lives of Bruno Schulz and Stepan Bandera came to intersect at a small, pleasant park on a rise above the old town of Drohobych.

Bruno Schulz | Stepan Bandera

Howard Willis is an essayist, critic and editor, who lives in Perth, Western Australia. His best known publication is Bad Blood (1981), an account of the Stanley Graham affair of 1941. He has published a dozen short stories in various literary journals; and contributed to the Australian “History Wars” debate. His interest in the subjects of the present essay was strengthened during a visit to south-eastern Poland in 2013. 


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