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September 17th 1939: Soviets invade Poland

As yet another Russian crime in Ukraine is unearthed, this time in Izium, Poland commemorates the heinous Soviet invasion that took place 83 years ago, on September 17, 1939. Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Russia realised its part of a secret protocol signed along with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – that led to the partition of Poland.

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On the fateful morning of September 17, 1939, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov – the man who, together with Nazi Germany’s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, paved the way for the calamities to come – met Wacław Grzybowski, the Polish Ambassador in Moscow to suggest, in a preconceived and deliberate way, that the Polish Government ceased to operate as a result of the German invasion of September 1, 1939.

“Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, no longer exists. The Polish Government has disintegrated, and no longer shows any sign of life. This means that the Polish State and its Government have, in point of fact, ceased to exist. In the same way, the Agreements concluded between the USSR and Poland have ceased to operate,” Molotov said and whatever he uttered was a calculated lie, for Polish authorities continued to operate and the Polish Army was still standing tall to the German offensive.

“Left to her own devices and bereft of leadership, Poland has become a suitable field for all manner of hazards and surprises, which may constitute a threat to the USSR. For these reasons the Soviet Government, which has hitherto been neutral, cannot any longer preserve a neutral attitude towards these facts,” the Soviet official claimed.

The Polish ambassador refused to accept this note, which the Polish authorities did not consider a declaration of war and did not break off diplomatic relations with the USSR.

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Meanwhile, the Polish Army, though exhausted by more than two weeks of fighting Germans, still was a significant force. However, as the official defence strategy assumed Soviet neutrality, most of the troops were deployed to the west. As the German army advanced through Poland, the Polish fall-back strategy assumed a long-term defence in the southeast of the country until France and Great Britain, Poland’s allies, attack Germany from the West. However, the Soviet invasion rendered the Polish plan of defence obsolete and no direct military relief for Poland from its allies ever came.

As Viktor Suvorov, a Russian writer and former intelligence officer, once said: “the Soviet Union is equally responsible for WWII as Nazi Germany.”

The invasion commences

Although the secret protocol of the pact bound the Soviet Union to attack Poland as soon as Nazi Germany did, in his strategic and political acumen Joseph Stalin decided to lay in wait to see if a war would ensue between Nazi Germany, France and the UK. When Hitler started a war with Poland, Stalin said he was not ready yet and waited. Even as Britain and France declared war on the Third Reich, Stalin was still taking his time. It was only when German soldiers occupied Warsaw and entered Lviv and Brest, that he decided to move in, fearing that they would take over all of Poland, leaving him with no territorial gains.

​​The Soviet Red Army prepared two fronts against Poland: the Belarusian, commanded by Colonel General Mikhail Kovalyov and the Ukrainian, led by Komandarm Semyon Timoshenko. The Soviet Union threw at least 620,000 soldiers, more than 4,700 tanks and 3,300 aircraft against just 25 battalions of the Border Protection Corps standing on guard of the Polish borders in the east.

The Soviet mass poured into Poland via two fronts – Ukraine and Belarus. Given the fact that no war was declared between Poland and the Soviet Union, Polish Commander-in-chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, ordered Polish troops not to engage the Soviets unless they were directly attacked. However, some units did not receive this order and many armed encounters ensued. Although the Soviet army advanced swiftly capturing the Polish city of Wilno (now Vilnius in Lithuania) on September 19 and Lwów on September 22, it did encounter stiff resistance in the city of Grodno. One notable victory was secured by the Polish side at the Battle of Szack (now Shatsk in Ukraine).

Still, the victory in the battle would not have a strategic impact and on September 28 the Red Army reached Vistula and Narew rivers. There, it met with the German army advancing from the West, as per the previous agreement. Soviet-Nazi handshakes were the final stroke that completed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact but they also became proof that Russia would not shy away even from collaborating with its sworn ideological enemies in order to pursue its expansionary imperialistic ambitions.

As many as 2,500 Polish soldiers died in the fight with the Red Army, 20,000 were injured or missing, while around 200,000 were captured, including 10,000 officers. The Soviets lost 3,000 soldiers and around 6,000 of their troops were injured.

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The back-stabbing Soviet invasion would have far-reaching and bloody consequences. Perhaps one of the most devastating ones to the Polish nation was the execution of about 21,000 Polish officers captured by the Red Army. Engineers, teachers, artists and other intellectuals who served in the Polish forces as well as regular army officers formed the group.

Their eradication in the Katyń forest, present-day Russia, was a deliberately contrived plot on the part of Soviet Russia – a scheme to bereave Poland of its vehicles of national, spiritual and intellectual richness and identity. The communist government long denied the responsibility for the crime, only admitting to it in 1990.

“According to Stalinist propaganda, the Soviet Union was a peaceful country and it did not attack anyone, but defended itself, waging the Great Patriotic War from 1941. Nonsense. There was no Great Patriotic War, but WWII. The Soviet Union took part in it begging on August 23, 1939, when it signed a pact with [Nazi] Germany to divide Poland. Two criminals divided Europe,” Mr Suvorov said.

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Today, as more evidence of Russian atrocities is being unearthed in the Ukrainian town of Izium recently reclaimed by the Ukrainian forces from Russian troops, the remembrance of the Soviet invasion of Poland, the calculated massacre in the Katyń forest, and the years of persecution and terror under the puppet communist government appointed by Joseph Stalin in Poland, should serve as a warning call to the world that history does rhyme.

It should also be retold as a cautionary tale of facts that for Russia, be it Stalin’s Soviet Union or the Russian Federation headed by dictator Vladimir Putin romanticising his country’s communist past, European values of mercy, fair treatment of prisoners of war, humanitarian compassion and others are thoroughly alien. And the bodies of women and children from the mass graves in Ukraine, as well as those of Poles who perished in the cold wastelands of Syberia are the grimmest proof of that.

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