Political performance in the theater: People’s Assembly

ID: 248
Organizing the People's Assembly of Western Ukraine, manipulation with the elections, resolutions.

This story is a part of the theme about Soviet Occupation in 1939-1941, prepared as a part of the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

The Opera House is one of the most famous buildings in Lviv, where, in addition to various artistic events, official political events also took place. On October 26-28, 1939, the People's Assembly of Western Ukraine was held there. The deputies of the assembly unanimously voted for the declarations on the establishment of Soviet rule in the entire territory of Western Ukraine and for the reunification with Soviet Ukraine.

A lawyer, an expert in international law, whose testimony was recorded by Milena Rudnytska, recalled how ashamed he was to participate in such a strange "election":

I attended pre-election meetings and followed the election campaign, but I did not notice any enthusiasm or even interest anywhere... And most importantly, everyone understood that this election was a comedy in which we played the role of puppets... Here the result of the election was known in advance... one would have expected the voter turnout to be minimal. And yet, as it proved to be on the election day, the hypnosis of the election campaign worked with mathematical certainty: the puppets behaved as Moscow’s arrangers wanted.

I was one of these reluctant puppets too, and on Sunday, October 22, I went to the polls. When a hero tells you that he did not vote, I advise you not to believe him: everyone voted. There was a long queue in front of the polling station located in the school of my district. I can't say I felt good when I took a place in the queue. However, when I saw two Camaldolese monks standing in front of me and, a minute later, a well-known Lviv University professor, a Pole and a member of the National Democratic party, taking his place in line behind me, I felt better. When, after entering the polling station, I saw at the table two of our “well-wishers”, who until recently considered me and my fellow citizens to be at least "opportunists" and "compromisers", I completely stopped being ashamed, both before people and before myself.

1484 delegates were elected to the People’s Assembly on that day. Among them, there were many well-known Lviv residents: Halyna Hurska, Vasyl Barvinsky, Filaret Kolessa, as well as Kyrylo Studynsky and Maryan Panchyshyn, who found themselves in the Presidium of the People’s Assembly of Western Ukraine.

The new administration ignored Dr. Panchyshyn's authority and status and, unfortunately, often used well-known figures, leaving them little choice. From the memoirs of Ivan Prokopiv, an employee of the regional health department:

Dr. Maryan Panchyshyn was elected a delegate to the People’s Assembly. He prepared his speech and had it typewritten by Kunynets. Then, at the request of the Provisional Administration, he gave them this speech for review. 50% of his speech was deleted and some points were added. "Do you see what they did with my speech?!" he showed me a typescript with many places crossed out. "They’ve told me to rewrite it and to say at the assembly what they have blessed. There is nothing you can do. If it is necessary, it is necessary," he said and told the typist to retype it.

It was in this “voluntary and compulsory” way that the following decisions were made: on the establishment of Soviet rule in Western Ukraine, on the accession of Western Ukraine to the USSR and on the reunification with the USSR, on the confiscation of landowners’ and monastic lands, and on the nationalization of banks and large-scale industry. Later, for many years of Soviet rule (and still in some places) the term "reunification" was used in relation to the events of September 1939. Instead, in Western and, increasingly, in contemporary Ukrainian historiography, the term "occupation" has been used in relation to the period of 1939-1941. The victory in World War II effectively legitimized the new borders of the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR as its constituent part.

One can read more about the activities of the Lviv Opera during the war in the article "Opera House: between ideology and culture".

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Prosp. Svobody, 28 – Lviv Opera house

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1. Степан Попович, Галина Попович, Мілена Рудницька і її "Західна Україна під більшевиками" (Львів: Коло, 2016), 484.
2. Оля Гнатюк, Відвага і страх (Київ: Дух і Літера, 2015), 496.

Cover photo: Delegates of the People's Assembly in front of the Opera Theater, Lviv, 1939. Courtesy by the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance.
Inna Zolotar
Translated by Andriy Masliukh