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UKRAINIANS, POLES SHARE A MUTUAL ANTIPATHY

SHARE UKRAINIANS, POLES SHARE A MUTUAL ANTIPATHY

Ukraine is celebrating the third anniversary of its independence from Russia this week, but in western Ukraine the main enemy isn't Russia but Poland.

Officially, relations between the two countries are good. But for nationalists in western Ukraine, the memories of the time when Poland ruled the area are long and bitter.Poland controlled western Ukraine politically or culturally for most of the past 600 years. Its hold over the region was only broken after World War II, when western Ukraine was annexed to the Soviet Union.

In the Lviv headquarters of the extreme nationalist Ukrainian National Assembly, the wall is decorated with the 10 commandments of a good Ukrainian nationalist. No. 3 reads: "All people are your friends except for Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians and Jews - they are the enemies of our nation."

In nationalist newspapers and speeches, Poles are lumped together with Russians as Ukraine's oppressors who have to be thrown out in order for Ukraine to be free.

The most recent example of the antipathy toward Poles came last week when police stopped four buses of Polish pilgrims, including one filled with priests and nuns, planning to visit the graveyard of their old hometown in western Ukraine.

The police said the locals didn't want to see Poles in their streets and then escorted the buses to the border, expelling them from Ukraine.

Poles in Ukraine don't have an easy future. The brightest students travel to Poland to study, and almost none of them return. The community is an aging one, more concerned with preserving the traces of 600 years of Polish history in the region than with building a future in western Ukraine.

"On the surface, relations between Poles and Ukrainians are good, but when you dig a little it is much uglier," said Zygmunt Jarmulko, deputy head of the Lviv Polish Association. "My son is studying in Poland and I tell him, `If you can stay, stay'."

In 1939, 60 percent of Lviv's population was Polish, and most Ukrainians lived in the countryside. After the war, most of the Poles living in what had become western Ukraine were repatriated to Poland.

Now only 2 percent of Lviv's population is Polish. There are between 300,000 and 1 million Poles living in Ukraine, a fraction of the 52 million people in the country.

"Most people who remained after the repatriations in 1946 expected Poland to return. It took years to realize that it would not happen," said an old woman who refused to give her name. "Realistically, I realize that it is impossible for Poland to return here, but I still hope for a miracle."

For most Poles, Lviv and western Ukraine have become a center of sentimental tourism. Tour buses filled with Polish pensioners drive through Lviv, searching for the houses and churches of their youth. The tours are eerily similar to the sentimental German tours that travel through the regions of western Poland that used to belong to Germany.

While Ukrainian authorities deny it, there does seem to have been a campaign to eradicate the more obvious traces of the area's Polish past.

Perhaps most painful for Poles is the fate of the Defenders of Lviv military cemetery. The cemetery holds the graves of soldiers who died fighting Ukrainians in 1918 and Soviets in 1920.

Before the war, it was one of Poland's holiest patriotic shrines. Now the graveyard is a wasteland. In the early 1970s most of the area was ploughed over by bulldozers. Renovation work started a few years ago, but now the city council has halted all work.

"Ukraine does not want the cemetery to be rebuilt," said Marek Krajewski of the Polish consulate in Lviv. "The opposition we have been faced with is scary. It would not be possible in any civilized country."

While denying that the local government had a policy of neglecting Polish monuments, Maksim Trilovsky, the head architect of the Lviv region, was unable to offer an explanation for the delays in granting permission to renovate the cemetery.

The past is stained with massacres and forcible deportations by both sides, but the future looks more promising. Ukrainians crowd Polish markets, and almost everything for sale in Lviv originated in Poland.

"An improvement in trade always precedes an improvement in other areas. Just look at how relations between Poland and Germany improved after the two started trading together," said Krajewski.

In a sign of the closer official ties between Warsaw and Kiev, the countries' two prime ministers met in western Ukraine and signed a trade agreement last week.

"We have problems because our historical relations were so complex," said Yuri Klyuchkovsky, the Lviv head of Rukh, a centrist nationalist party. "But today, from my point of view, relations with Poland are good."