Altered Lives & Lines– Przewodow & The Poland-Ukraine Geopolitical Fault Line (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #248)

In another world that existed not so long ago, the missile that landed in Przewodow, Poland would have struck a predominantly Ukrainian community. If the history that informed the redrawing of Poland’s eastern border after World War II had been different, the location of Przewodow might not have been in Poland at all. Instead, it could have been in Ukraine. That is because back then, Przedonow stood on a geopolitical fault line. One that put it on a collision course with the forces of imperialism, nationalism, fascism, and communism. Many of those same forces still exist today. Przewodow might be remote, but it still cannot escape the forces of history. Neither can Poland or Ukraine.

Visible proof – Poland and Ukraine border markers (Credit: Oblomov2)

Stopgap Measure – The Westward Movement
Today, Przewodow is on another fault line, one between western and eastern values. It is only ten kilometers from where the European Union and non-European Union world divide. The same goes for the separation of NATO and non-NATO territory. The forces that have cultivated peace and prosperity in western Europe have been shifting eastward since 1989. They reached their limit not far beyond Przewodow. These forces are temporarily stalled at the Ukrainian border. The Ukraine-Russia War will decide whether the eastward movement of western values and institutions continues across Ukraine. In the meantime, the war between east and west threatens to spread beyond Ukraine, as it did for one dangerous moment when a missile slammed into the ground at a grain storage facility in Przewodow.

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Przewodow was overwhelmingly populated by Ukrainians and occupied by the Soviet Union. It could just as easily have become part of Soviet territory. From an ethnic standpoint that would have made sense, but those redrawing the lines on maps decided to set the border a little bit further to the east. This meant the Przewodow reverted to Poland, where it had been located prior to the war. At the same time, the ethnic composition of the village was radically altered to separate Poles and Ukrainians. This was how Przewodow came to exist in its present form. No one could have imagined at the time that a border adjustment would have geopolitical ramifications seventy-five years later.

Into the abyss – Still images from the missile strike in Przewodow

Nothing Lasts Forever – Bordering On Change
Borders are very strange things. They call to mind the saying that “nothing lasts forever.” Borders sometimes do not last longer than it takes the ink on the treaties which created them to dry. No matter what nation you live in right now, you can be sure that its borders are not permanent. There are thing constants in life, death, taxes, and the malleability of borders. Whether it takes a decade, a century or a millennium, the borders of any polity will eventually and inevitably change. One of the reasons borders constantly shift is because many of them make very little sense. One of the strangest things about borders is how hard they are to distinguish. Most are not demarcated by anything as substantial as walls. Sometimes they are markers set in stone, other times they are virtually invisible. Treaties may delineate borders, but often this does nothing to differentiate between two sides.

I recall the first time I set foot outside the United States, driving across the border into Canada, specifically from the state of Montana into the province of Alberta. The trees looked the same, the road looked the same, even the signage looked familiar. From my perspective, one side of the border looked just like the other. I imagined that there would be something to distinguish between the two countries. If it had not been for border control, I would not have known one side from the other. I thought of that experience while reading news reports of the missile that hit in Przewodow. Looking for images of the village, I noticed the landscape surrounding it was agricultural and monotonous. One of the photos from the village showed farm fields stretching into the distance. The landscape looks much the same on the Ukrainian side of the border. How would a person be able to tell the difference between Poland and Ukraine when the landscape looked the same on either side of the border? This reminded me that the Poland-Ukraine border is just as much a political boundary, as it is a geographical boundary.

A place in time – Road entering Przewodow (Credit: Jakub Kruczek)

Identity Crisis – On The Wrong Side
The border between Poland and Ukraine is like many of the borders in Eastern Europe, a product of recent rather than distant history. The first half of the 20th century in eastern Poland and western Ukraine was marked by a succession of catastrophes. A fine illustration of the turmoil that plagued the region is how often Przewodow changed sides. This innocuous village found itself part of Austria-Hungary, Interwar Poland, Communist Poland and post-communist Poland. There were also occupations by Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and another one by the Soviet Union. Armies that fought the two most violent wars in human history swept through the area on multiple occasions. With such a tumultuous history, it is a wonder that Przewodow managed to survive at all. The village made it through the whirlwind, but it is much different today than it was a hundred years ago.

Present-day Przewodow is ethnically Polish. A century ago, the situation could not have been more different. Of the village’s 737 inhabitants, 658 were ethnic Ukrainians, another 34 were Jewish. In other words, 95% of the population was not Polish. During World War II, the village was a hotbed of sentiment for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army as Polish and Ukrainian nationalists fought an ultraviolent war within a larger war. After the World War II war ended, facts on the ground were established to fit the dictates of a new border. This meant shifting the border of Poland to fit the preferences of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Poland’s border was moved westward, and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s border was also shifted westward. Forcible population exchanges of ethnic Poles and Ukrainians took place. Przewodow’s Ukrainian population moved to the Soviet Union. Poles moved into Przewodow. That is the way things have stayed since then. Thus, when the missile hit Przewodow it landed on Polish soil. At that moment, the border between Poland and Ukraine mattered more than it has in years. It is no longer just a line on a map, it is the difference between peace and the potential for a more widespread war.

Click here for: The War Has Already Spread – Russia’s Domestic Dissension (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #249)

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