They died for their loyalty to Poland


„Katyn knot” – hands tied behind the victim’s back./

They died for their loyalty to Poland

The Katyn Massacre is one of the cruellest acts of wartime terror experienced by Poland during the Second World War. The crimes committed by Nazi Germany in the Polish territories it occupied from 1939, particularly the extermination of the Jews, are widely recognised. Less known to the world are the equally horrific and heinous Soviet crimes. On the 84th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre, I pay tribute to its victims. I also wish to reiterate the significance of this NKVD crime as a perpetual reminder of the dangers posed by Russian imperialism, which continues to threaten Europe and the world today.

Polish War Cemetery in Katyn. /

The Katyn Massacre was committed by Soviet Russia in the spring of 1940. It was a war crime. Over 20,000 Polish citizens, mostly prisoners of war and Polish Army and State Police officers, lost their lives at the hands of the perpetrators. They were targeted and killed by NKVD investigators, who viewed them as staunch opponents of Communism. The decision to execute these people was made by the highest echelons of the USSR authorities. Initially, the Soviets tried to persuade the captured officers and other imprisoned Poles to renounce their allegiance to the independent fatherland and to cooperate with Moscow. But they did not succeed. In a memo to Stalin, the head of the NKVD, Lavrentiy Beria, stated that Polish prisoners of war were ‘declared enemies of the Soviet power, unlikely ever to improve’.

That is why more than 20,000 people had to die. Without trial, without being charged and without the chance to defend themselves. They lost their lives because they were loyal to their homeland and their nation. The Katyn slaughter of prisoners of war was a violation of all moral norms and international law, including the Geneva Conventions.

All those people were murdered because they threatened Soviet interests. Their death was an irreparable blow to our nation – a significant part of the intellectual elite was wiped out, including lawyers, doctors, civil clerks, teachers, journalists and reserve officers called up to serve in the army due to the impending war. They were killed to prevent the rebirth of a sovereign Polish state. It made it much easier for the Soviets to establish a new totalitarian order in our country after 1945.

Today, 84 years after these events and 35 years after the collapse of Communism in Poland, we are witnessing a revival of Russian imperialism in Europe. And it needs to be emphasised that this resurgence did not begin on 24 February 2022 with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Prior to that assault, Russia had already displayed aggression, notably by attacking Georgia in 2008 and annexing Crimea and Donbas in 2014.

By unleashing the biggest conflict in Europe since the Second World War two years ago, Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he is pursuing the same goals as the leaders of Soviet Russia once did. Through the use of violence, he is trying to dismantle the core ideals of the free world: freedom, peace and security. This is why Russian troops have been engaged in brutal acts of murder and rape against civilians in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion, aiming to terrorise the entire Ukrainian people and weaken the resolve of the defenders.

Putin doesn’t even try to conceal his imperial ambitions. In numerous public statements, he often refers to Ukraine not as an independent and sovereign state but as a Russian territory. He even compares himself to Tsar Peter the Great, arguing that – much like the ruler of three hundred years ago – he is not conquering neighbouring states but rather fighting for lands that rightfully belong to Russia.

Of course, these are all outright lies that have nothing to do with historical truth. Deception has been deeply ingrained in Russian imperial propaganda for centuries. The Soviets denied their responsibility for the Katyn Massacre for half a century. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that they finally acknowledged that Russia was responsible for the murders. Today, Russia denies the crimes it has committed in many Ukrainian villages, towns and cities. We Poles fully understand the suffering of the Ukrainians, and we stand united with them, offering our unwavering support in their fight.

For the past two years, I have been repeating the same message: Russian imperialism must be stopped, Russia must withdraw from Ukrainian lands, and the war criminals must be punished. Russia is violating international law; it is an aggressor and an occupier of Ukrainian lands.

The people in the free, democratic West must understand that Russian imperialism will not end with Ukraine. The conquest of this country will pave the way for others, like the Baltic states or Moldova. And beyond. This is why Western nations need to join forces to oppose Russia’s desire for imperial dominance. The only way to end cruel war crimes and establish peace in Europe is through a united defence of freedom and democracy.

As we mark the 84th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre, I recall the fallen and commemorate their memory. Today, we can look to their heroism and sacrifice as a guide. The murder committed by the Soviets is a stark reminder of how far Russian imperialism can go. We must do everything to stop it.

Andrzej Duda

President of Poland