Being a minister, when I see people in need, I do not ask them about their nationality
In 1918, approximately five million Ukrainians ended up within the borders of independent Poland. It equaled 16% of the total population of members of the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches. The majority inhabited villages. According to the national census of 1931, in the Volhynian Province, Ukrainians constituted 63,9%. Poles 15,6% and Jews 10% of the population. There were also other national groups residing in these areas, amongst them Germans and Czechs.
Radical Ukrainian organisations used terrorism as a means of political struggle. In 1930, Polish authorities responded with repressions. Polish administration, police and army made numerous arrests and searches; they demolished buildings and properties, and used flogging as punishment. Towards the end of the 1930s, a Polonization action was carried out, during which Russian Orthodox churches were being destroyed.
During the Second World War, the Eastern Borderlands were first occupied by the Soviet Union, and subsequently by the Germans. In the period between February 1943 until February 1944, Ukrainian nationalists: the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists – the faction headed by Stepan Bandera and its military branch – Ukrainian Insurgents Army, launched the operation of ethnic cleansing of Poles residing in: Volhynia; Lvov, Tarnopol and Stanislawow Provinces and the southern part of Polesia.
Individual assaults and mass massacres took place in several thousands of towns and villages. 100,000 Poles perished as a result of the massacres; their perpetrators often used primitive and cruel methods. The place of burial of very many victims remains unknown.
According to Grzegorz Motyka, a historian specializing in the Volhynia Massacres, the action had been planned and therefore should be classified as genocide. In Ukraine, the massacres are usually referred to as a spontaneous action and the responsibility is being devolved upon specific member of Ukrainian Insurgents Army or upon the peasants. There are no proofs, however, that a single Polish village were spontaneously slaughtered by Ukrainian peasants.
He protected Jews, Poles and Ukrainians. “Being a minister, when I see people in need, I do not ask them about their nationality.” Jan Jelinek resided together with his wife in Kupychiv, a Czech settlement in Volhynia. A German lieutenant arrived in the parsonage and threatened Jan with shooting him dead. “[…] says: ‘You helped a Jew.’ I replied to him: ‘I helped a human being.’”
The wartime, first the Soviet, then German occupation, the massacres of Poles in Volhynia – all these were covered in Jelinek’s memoirs. He witnessed much atrocities and yet he never remained indifferent.
“When they liquidated the ghetto in Kovel, a Jew named Fonko and his wife lived with us at the parsonage. I had known them since before the war. […] They stayed with us for a few weeks, and then Fonko decided that they could not go on like this and that they would try to reach their friends at the other side of the Stokhid River. I took them to the river, they crossed it. When we said good bye, I wished them all the luck. I have no idea what happened to them, but I have the sinking feeling the worst might have happened.”
When the Banderivtsi attacked Polish villages, I provided aid to the refugees.
“We have agreed with Polish partisans that there would be no combat in Kupychiv, that own townlet will be an oasis for those in need.”
Towards the end of 1943, he intervened at the Polish partisans in defence of the Ukrainians accused of spying. “I told them that I would take personal responsibility for Mr Łuciuk and his daughter in law. […] Each of us went their own way; Mr Łuciuk and his daughter in law didn’t move an inch from my house until the Poles left Kupychiv, therefore they could not have passed any information to anybody.”
After the war, he and his wife ended up in Czechoslovakia. Russian immigrants were provided with false birth certificates to prevent deportations to gulags. Jelinek refused to cooperate with the Czech secret service. He was imprisoned and sent to labour camp. After his release, he worked at a paint and lacquer factory. Until the velvet revolution of 1989, he had not been allowed to be a minister.