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Operation Storm

ID: 259

The story is a part of the theme The Epoligue of the War, prepared within the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.


As soon as fighting in the city ceased, we, like thousands of our fellow citizens, came out to the streets. This walk became a memory for a lifetime, because after five years of occupation, I saw white and red flags on the City Hall tower, on the houses and in the windows of my city... They bloomed like the most beautiful flowers where the war had recently raged.

What a terrible contrast was the next day and the hours that followed. First, in place of our white and red symbols, blue and yellow, i.e. Ukrainian flags, appeared, and then, when they were torn off, the hated symbols of sickle and hammer could be seen, and messages were posted on the walls joyfully announcing that the Red Army liberated the city once again to be incorporated into Soviet Ukraine forever. The ominous news that the Home Army in Lviv had laid down arms and its entire command was arrested turned out to be a tragic truth.
(Wanda Niemczycka-Babel, The Years of War, 1939-1945)

At the end of the war, the Polish government in exile hoped that the territories annexed by the USSR in the autumn of 1939 in accordance with a secret protocol to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact would be restored. The Soviet-Polish relations during the war were very tense, especially after the Nazis exposed the shootings in Katyn, which killed about 15,000 Polish army officers. Moscow used the Polish protests in April 1943 as a pretext to declare a severance of relations with the Polish government.

Restoring the 1941 borders was one of the military goals of the Soviet leaders. Finally, as early as the autumn of 1943 at the Tehran conference, Stalin agreed with Churchill and Roosevelt beforehand that the eastern borders of the Polish state would run along the Curzon line (a conditional dividing line proposed by British diplomat George Curzon as a possible truce border in the war between Bolshevik Russia and Poland in 1920–1921). Poland, on the other hand, was to receive territorial compensation in the West. Immediately after that, the pressure on the Polish government in exile intensified. However, the issue of Poland's eastern borders remained uncertain, especially for the Polish government in exile.

Back in March 1942, General Władysław Sikorski in his "Personal and Secret Instructions for the National Commander" gave the Polish underground armed forces a task to get ready for taking back power in pre-war Eastern Poland during the retreat of German troops. In late 1943, this plan was called the Operation Storm. The priority was to take control of Lviv before the entry of the Red Army, to act as the master of the city and an equal partner in negotiations with the USSR.

On July 7, 1944, the commander of the Home Army’s Lviv district, Colonel Władysław Filipkowski, was ordered to begin implementing the Storm plan. The task was to take over the city and create a Polish administration in Lviv for representation before the troops of the First Ukrainian Front. Filipkowski had about 7,000 armed soldiers at his disposal. In addition, the so-called "forest units", i.e. combat groups whose task was to paralyze the activities of transport communications, were involved on the outskirts of Lviv.

When the German occupation administration of the District of Galicia left the city on the night of July 23,  Home Army units attacked the retreating Wehrmacht division in the morning. During the fighting, Home Army units managed to capture the outskirts of the railway station, the suburb of Holosko, Pohulianka and some area around ul. Kochanowskiego (now vul. Kostia Levytskoho), where the uprising headquarters were located in the building number 23.

On July 26, the Polish flag was raised on the City Hall tower, with the flags of the Alied powers: the United States, Great Britain, France and the USSR below. Colonel Filipkowski was awarded the Order of Virtuti Militari for the successful operation. For two days, Home Army soldiers with white and red armbands patrolled the streets of Lviv along with Soviet soldiers. However, the following day Colonel Filipkowski was summoned to the NKVD department, where it was declared that Lviv was a Soviet city and an ultimatum was issued: to immediately remove Polish flags in the city, to stop patrolling the streets, to concentrate units in barracks and to lay down their arms. The next day, the command of the Home Army’s Lviv district and representatives of the Polish administration were invited to a meeting at the headquarters at vul. Kochanowskiego 23. When they gathered, the building was surrounded by NKVD men and all participants of the meeting were taken to the prison on ul. Łąckiego. The leaders of the Operation Storm were sentenced to 10-20 years in prison. A wave of arrests of the Home Army military and deportations to Soviet camps took place in the city.

On November 1, 1944, several thousand Poles in Lviv staged a large-scale protest at the Lychakiv Cemetery. Inscriptions reading “We will not give Lviv to the USSR!” and “Glory to the fighters for Polish Lviv” appeared at the burial place of Soviet soldiers. Demonstrators sang the Polish national anthem and shouted anti-Soviet slogans. At the same time, both internationally and directly in the city, Soviet control over Lviv was growing.

Sources

1. Кім Науменко, У роки Другої світової війни (accessed on 13.02.2019)
2. Damian Karol Markowski, Anatomia strachu. Sowietyzacja obwodu lwowskiego 1944–1953. Studium zmian polityczno-gospodarczych, Warszawa, 2018
3. Wanda Niemczycka Babel, Lata wojny: 1939-1945, (accessed on 13.02.2019)

Cover photo: The Operation Storm headquarters (now vul. Levytskoho 23), April 2019. Photo by Olha Zarechniuk. Source: Lviv Interactive, Center for Urban History
Anna Chebotariova
Translated by Andriy Masliukh

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Vul. Levytskoho, 23 – residential building

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