Volhynia (film)

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Volhynia (pl. Wołyń)
Directed by Wojciech Smarzowski
Produced by Film itp. z o.o.[1]
Screenplay by Wojciech Smarzowski
  • Michalina Łabacz
  • Vasyl Vasylyk
Music by Mikołaj Trzaska
Edited by Paweł Laskowski
Release date
Poland 7 October 2016
Country Poland

Volhynia (Polish: Wołyń) is a 2016 Polish drama film directed by Wojciech Smarzowski. The film is set in the 1939-1943 time frame and its central theme is Polish-Ukrainian inter-ethnic hatred culminating in massacres of Poles in Volhynia. The screenplay was based on the collection of short stories titled Hate (Polish: Nienawiść) by Stanisław Srokowski.[2]

The film was nominated for the Golden Lions Award at the 41st Gdynia Film Festival, and received there three awards: for the cinematography, best début, and best makeup.


As the budget of the film was insufficient, the director appealed to the public for financial support in order to gather required funds to finish the film.[3] Afterwards, the financial support was received from, for example, Telewizja Polska.[4]

Cerkiew z Grąziowej, some scenes to the movie were recorded in the Orthodox Church in 2014

Filming took place in: Lublin, Kolbuszowa, Kazimierz Dolny, Rawa Mazowiecka, Sanok and Skierniewice, from 19 September 2014 to 21 August 2015.


The movie tells the story of young Polish girl, Zosia Głowacka, from Volhynia's village settled by Ukrainians, Poles and Jews.[5] The story begins shortly before the outbreak of World War II in 1939 with marriage of Zosia's sister to a Ukrainian. During the wedding, Zosia's father decides she would marry an older village administrator, Maciej Skiba, despite her being deeply in love with a local, young Ukrainian boy, Petro. There is also resentment shown by local Ukrainian population towards Polish officials, as they favor the Polish minority in Volhynia. In talks between the participants of the wedding, it is revealed that some Ukrainians carry out terrorist attacks against Polish authorities and Ukrainian collaborators, and how it is met with severe actions from the Polish government, including closing Orthodox churches and humiliation of Ukrainian population. It is also shown that some parts of Ukrainian and Polish population are trying to reconcile with each other.

When the war begins, Maciej is conscripted to the Polish Army to fight against the Germans in the September Campaign. When the campaign is lost, Maciej and other survivors try to return to their homes. On their way back, all members of the group, except Maciej, are captured by local Ukrainians, tortured and killed. Maciej manages to get to the village only by disguising himself as a Ukrainian. The village is in the eastern part of the Poland occupied by the Soviet Union, and the communist rule is established in the village. The local Ukrainian and Jewish population cooperate with the Soviet authorities, replacing pre-war Polish authorities as governors of the village.

In the meantime, Zosia gets pregnant, most likely with Petro, but wants Maciej to believe that the child is his. As part of a massive deportation carried by the Soviets against the Poles in 1939–1941, Maciej, Zosia, and Maciej's children from his first marriage are about to be sent to Siberia or Kazakhstan as forced labor. Zosia and the children are rescued in last moment, just as the train is about to depart, by Petro who bribes the guard with vodka. When they come back to Petro's home, Zosia gets contractions. While she is giving birth to her child, the guard arrives and kills Petro. Zosia then takes care of Maciej's home and children during his absence. The children are sent to a school organized by the Soviets where all children learn to inform against their parents and give up on their religion.

The plot then switches to 1941, when the German Army is conquering Volhynia during Operation Barbarossa. In the new situation, the same Ukrainians who welcomed the Soviets two years before, now greet the Germans with vodka and bread. The Germans begin to kill local Jews and organize local police units from Ukrainian collaborators, who actively participate in the Holocaust of the Jews. However, people like Zosia and some Ukrainians still try to help the Jews by hiding them in safe places.

In the meantime, Maciej comes back home managing to escape from deportation. The family is trying to organize their life in a changed reality, as Poles face increased hostility from their Ukrainian neighbours, growing to a level even higher than at the beginning of the war. There is an increasing number of murders of Poles by Ukrainians. In this situation, Maciej sets out to the local market despite Zosia's protests, who is afraid for his safety. And she is proven right, as the other Polish neighbours arrive some days later with Maciej's head cut off by the Ukrainians.

Zosia is trying to live on taking care of the children, however, one day, when she is defending herself against an attempted rape by a Ukrainian policeman, the presence of the Jews hidden by her is revealed. The Jews (an old couple and a young unrelated boy) escape and find shelter for the winter in the home of a local Ukrainian, who agrees to help after the Jew promises him a large amount of money. When the Jew's wife dies and winter goes by, the Ukrainian demands the payment and when he sees that the Jew cannot pay him, he kills him in the forest. The young Jew is rescued by the Ukrainian's son, a friend of his.

The plot finally goes to the summer of 1943 when news of killings of Poles by Ukrainians spread among the Poles in the village. At the time, a young Polish man, seriously injured, arrives at Zosia's home. When he recovers, he settles there as it makes Zosia feel safer. He contacts a local Home Army unit, which by orders of the Polish government in the United Kingdom does not protect Polish population from Ukrainian attacks, but are prepared to fight against Germans in the future. When Zosia's man is asked to be a guide for members of the Home Army on the way to meeting with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), Zosia desperately tries to discourage him from going. However, she fails. When the two members of the Home Army arrive at the meeting, as agreed without weapons, they are surrounded by the UPA soldiers, captured, and then dismembered by horses. The men from the UPA then hunt for the rest of the group and only the friend of Zosia escapes and hides in a church, which is full of Poles. During a sermon, the Ukrainians enter the church, killing everyone in the way, but Zosia's friend runs to the church's tower and somehow survives the attack.

In the meantime, local Ukrainian population including the former Ukrainian policemen, who run away to forest and joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and other local Ukrainians are gathering together calling to eradicate the lands from Poles. There are two sermons from the Ukrainian Orthodox priests shown: one who preaches about loving thy neighbour, and the second, who calls to kill all Poles to finally achieve 'pure' Ukrainian lands and consecrates the pitchforks, hammers and knives used by Ukrainians to murder their Polish neighbours.

Soon, the first survivors of the pogroms arrive to the village telling the story of Ukrainian neighbours killing Poles and everybody who does not want to participate in killings. The local Ukrainian village administrator arrives at Zosia's home to ensure her that she and her children should stay at home, as they would not be harmed by their Ukrainian neighbours. Also, other Polish people are ensured about their safety. However, these are only deception tactics, to allow Ukrainians to kill as many Poles as possible.

Finally, the killings in the village begin at night. Zosia escapes with her child, but as she is running away, she sees Poles being tortured, including pregnant women being stabbed in womb, human bowels and eyes being taken out alive, people getting crucified alive on their doors and so on. Zosia’s stepson is murdered during the massacre. Her stepdaughter, however, is rescued by a Ukrainian peasant. On her way to escape from certain death, Zosia arrives with her child to Petro's previous house, where she is rescued from the death at the hands of Ukrainian mob, by Petro's mother.

As Zosia is running away with her child from place to place, she encounters the corpses of mutilated Polish infants, women and elderly in every village. In one place she runs into a unit of the German Army, which saves her from certain death, just moments before Ukrainians are about to kill her and her child. The Germans are astonished at first as to why she is walking alongside them, but when they find more and more stacks of murdered Poles on their way, they feel sorry for her and escort her to the place where her sister, Helena, lives. She is welcomed there, as Vasyl, Helena's Ukrainian husband, is friendly to Poles. Zosia hides in their shed with her son. As the majority of village's population is already involved in killings, Vasyl's brother tries to convince him to join nationalists and to kill his Polish wife. This way he could save himself and the children. As they wrangle, Vasyl kills the brother with an axe.

The night after, the whole family is attacked by Poles who seek revenge on Ukrainians. They condemn Helena for living with a Ukrainian, slaughter her newborn in front of her eyes, then kill Vasyl and behead her. Zosia observes everything from the shed, terrified. She escapes again, now afraid of both Ukrainians and Poles. She hides in the woods with her son.


Awards and nominations[edit]


In Poland[edit]

In Tadeusz Sobolewski's opinion, Volhynia is a movie without precedents in Polish cinema after 1989.[11] Piotr Zychowicz and Pawel Lisicki praised the movie, underlying its authenticity and historical accuracy.[12][13] Grażyna Torbicka and Tomasz Raczek both expressed surprise the film had not received the main award at the 2016 Gdynia Film Festival in Poland.[14] Jakub Majmurek wrote that Volhynia has met his high expectations and is one of the best movie describing the history of the "bleeding lands". The author also believes that the director of the movie, Smarzowski, presented the relations between Poles and Ukrainians honestly, and the notion of the movie is a warning against any form of radicalism.[15] Ewa Siemaszko, who cooperates with the Institute of National Remembrance to uncover the historical facts of the massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, thinks that the movie shows the events accurately. She quoted opinions of witnesses of the genocide, who said the movie is like a documentary on the events in Volhynia. Ewa Siemaszko additionally remarked that the massacres of Poles in Volhynia was genocide with exceptional cruelty – "genocidium atrox". It was a fierce, cruel and terrible genocide.[16]

In Germany[edit]

According to Gerhard Gnauck, Volhynia is the movie the Polish society has been waiting for a very long time. On the occasion of Volhynia's premiere, Gnauck recalled the history of the region and the Polish-Ukrainian relations. The author cited expectations of some political experts that the movie may cold the relations, arouse negative emotions in Ukraine and be exploited by the Russians to unleash anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Gnauck has underlined the episode of Zosia and her child seeking shelter around a unit of the German Army. In Gnauck's opinion, the movie is very good and balance the rights of both sides.[17]

In Ukraine[edit]

Following the recommendation of the Ukrainian ambassador to Poland, Andrii Deshchytsia, the film's showing in Ukraine has been banned. Reportedly, the censorship was rationalized by the Ukrainian authorities alleging that the film "could cause unrest on the streets of Kiev." The head of the Ukrainian Association in Poland, Piotr Tyma, supported the ban asserting that the film undermines the Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation efforts. The Ukrainian media accused the director of making a biased movie "based only on Polish historical sources".[18] The first such screening was planned by the Polish embassy in Kiev. It was to have been followed by a discussion with the director. Among the Ukrainian guests invited to attend was the country’s president, prime minister and some MPs. However, Ukraine’s foreign ministry strongly recommended that the Polish embassy call off the screening for the sake of "public order". Accordingly, the Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Rafał Sobczak said that the introductory screening had been cancelled. Talks might be held about possible new date of limited viewing.[19] The Polish Institute in Kiev followed the recommendation from Ukraine's foreign ministry and called-off the presentation of a film set against the backdrop of World War II massacres.[20]

During the production of the film some Ukrainian actors, invited to play characters, rejected the offer after reading about them. They refused because they thought the movie propagates hate.[21] Nevertheless, the film received positive reception from Nadiya Savchenko, member of the Ukrainian parliament, who welcomes the opportunity to talk about painful events of the past while noting many positive developments in Polish-Ukrainian relations of today.[22][23]

Historical episodes[edit]

  • The figure of officer in the Home Army arriving at the meeting with Ukrainians refers to poet and officer Zygmunt Rumel. Rumel was killed by the UPA, tied to four horses and his body ripped apart.
  • The scene of attack on the church refers to events from 11 July 1943 in the village Kisielin[24] (Kisielin massacre) called Bloody Sunday on Volhynia. Similar events take place in the same day in Poryck (Poryck massacre), Chrynów (Chrynów massacre), Krymno and Zabłoćce.
  • The scene of blessing of axes and scythes refers to the events from 28 August 1943 in the village Sztuń near Liuboml.[25][26]
  • The preaching in the Orthodox church took place on 27 September 1943 in village Iwankowicze.[citation needed]
  • Polish reprisal can relate to Sahryń massacre (10 March 1944) or to Pawłokoma massacre (3 March 1945). However, in Pawłokoma woman and children were spared.[27]


  1. ^ "Informacja o producencie filmu Wołyń". filmwolyn.org. Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  2. ^ "Stanisław Srokowski o filmie "Wołyń": To będzie wielki wstrząs, który odkłamie historię". wpolityce.pl. 11 March 2015. Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  3. ^ "Realizacja filmu "Wołyń" zagrożona? Smarzowski w internecie apeluje o pomoc". tvp.info. 17 February 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  4. ^ "TVP przekazuje milion złotych na film "Wołyń"". kresy.pl. 28 May 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  5. ^ "Wołyń (2016)". Retrieved 2016-09-23. 
  6. ^ ""Wołyń" zawalczy o Złote Lwy na Festiwalu Filmowym w Gdyni". Kresy.pl. Retrieved 2016-09-24. 
  7. ^ "Od "Planety singli" do "Wołynia". Konkursowe filmy Festiwalu Filmowego w Gdyni". Trójmiasto.pl. Retrieved 2016-09-24. 
  8. ^ a b "Gala finałowa 41. Festiwalu Filmowego w Gdyni. Już wiemy, kto dostał "Złote Lwy". Oto najlepszy film!". Radio Gdańsk. Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
  9. ^ a b "ZŁOTE LWY 41. FESTIWALU FILMOWEGO W GDYNI". ZASP. Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
  10. ^ "Najlepszy debiut – Michalina Łabacz" (in Polish). www.tvp.info. 25 September 2016. Retrieved 2016-09-25. 
  11. ^ Tadeusz Sobolewski (23 September 2016). ""Wołyń" to wielki film. Zło jak namalowane" (in Polish). wyborcza.pl. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  12. ^ Piotr Zychowicz o filmie Wolyn.
  13. ^ Pawel Lisicki: Wolyn, sila pamieci.
  14. ^ ""Wołyń" niedoceniony w Gdyni. Raczek i Torbicka zdziwieni. "Film pokazuje okrucieństwo, ale jest doskonały, przemyślany, sprawiedliwy"" (in Polish). tokfm.pl. 29 September 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  15. ^ Jakub Majmurek (26 September 2016). ""Wołyń": Kino w wojnie pamięci" (in Polish). krytykapolityczna.pl. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  16. ^ http://wpolityce.pl/historia/310937-ewa-siemaszko-nie-nalezy-traktowac-ukraincow-protekcjonalnie-w-sprawie-rzezi-wolynskiej-lecz-jako-odpowiedzialnych-ludzi-wywiad
  17. ^ Brutal und düster: "Wolhynien" erzählt vom Massaker an den Polen 1943, DW 2016-10-07
  18. ^ Dorota Niemitz (2 November 2016). "Volhynia (Hatred) by Wojciech Smarzowski — a gripping account of the 1943 massacre". International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). 
  19. ^ PAP (17 October 2016). "Kiev screening of Polish film on WWII massacre postponed". Polskie Radio S.A. 
  20. ^ "Kiev screening of Polish film on WWII massacre postponed". 17 October 2016. 
  21. ^ Jacek Tomczuk (28 October 2014). "Tak zaczęła się rzeź na Ukrainie. Smarzowski kręci »Wołyń«" [How the Volhynian slaughter started. Smarzowski filming »Wołyń«]. Newsweek.pl. ...znam paru świetnych aktorów z Ukrainy, którzy dostali zaproszenie do grania w filmie i, mimo gorących sympatii dla Polaków, po przeczytaniu swych ukraińskich ról odmówili udziału. Powiedzieli, że to prawdziwa szkoła nienawiści. To dla mnie wystarczający dzwonek alarmowy – przyznaje pisarka Oksana Zabużko (Ukrainian writer). 
  22. ^ ""Wołyń" w kinach. Nadija Sawczenko: historia nie powinna prowadzić do pogorszenia stosunków". PolskieRadio.pl. 7 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-07. W rozmowie z PAP Sawczenko podkreśla, że polsko-ukraińska historia nie jest prosta i nie dotyczy wyłącznie Wołynia. - »Można znaleźć dużo momentów z historii, w których były nieporozumienia. Uważam jednak, że jest to historia i dobrze, że pojawia się film.« 
  23. ^ "Nadija Sawczenko: Dobrze, że powstał film "Wołyń"". RP.pl. 7 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  24. ^ "It is a miracle that I am alive. Interview with Krzesimir Dębski". 
  25. ^ Witalij Masłowśkyj, "Z kim i przeciwko komu walczyli nacjonaliści ukraińscy w latach II wojny światowej", Nortom, Wrocław 2001. ISBN 83-85829-63-6. Original title: Віталій Масловський, З ким i проти кого воювали українські націоналісти в роки Другої світової війни, Москва 1999, ISBN 5-85468-002-5.
  26. ^ Viktor Polishchuk, Bitter truth: The criminality of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the testimony of a Ukrainian, 403 pages,ISBN 0-9699444-9-7 (English)
  27. ^ "Egzekucji dokonano na cmentarzu, świadkowie zeznali, że rozstrzelano ok. 120 mężczyzn, nie zginęła ani jedna kobieta, ani jedno dziecko". http://konserwatyzm.pl/artykul/10991/sladewska-polskie-akcje-odwetowe-w-propagandzie-oun/ Myśl Polska, Nr 39-40 (29.09–6.10.2013)

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