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The uneasy neighbors

Relations with Poland and Ukraine are strained. Again.

Although Bandera was in the Sachsenhausen camp, the organizations he had helped create, including the Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA), were bent on carrying out his program of cleansing eastern Poland of its Polish population. Before the war the area had a majority Ukrainian population, except for the larger cities like Lviv, and Polish authorities had tried ham-handed ways of stifling Ukrainian nationalism.

After the war, Ukrainian partisans were hunted down by the Soviets for having cooperated with the Germans, and UPA was crushed. However, it still has enormous resonance in western Ukraine — where monuments to the movement are a common sight.

In the end the ethnic balance of the region was shifted permanently after the war, when the Soviets, with the agreement of their British and American allies, moved Poland’s borders hundreds of miles to the west, and deported the vast majority of the ethnically Polish population to post-war Poland. Today, despite that history, ties between Poland and Ukraine are very close. As many as half a million Ukrainians work in Poland, fleeing their own collapsing economy, which is expected to shrink by 14 percent this year.

“There is just no work here, the only chance for me is to get to Poland,” said Ala, a heavy set woman in a flower-print dress waiting for a work visa outside the Polish consulate in Lviv. She had lost her job as a seamstress in a Lviv factory and was hoping to get to Poland to pick apples, for which she would earn $25 for a 14-hour workday.

Poland was a strong supporter of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, which shifted the country further away from Russia’s orbit. Warsaw is also an advocate of Ukraine joining NATO and the European Union, all part of policy of fostering Ukrainian independence as a way of curtailing Russia’s regional ambitions.

The joint hosting of the 2012 soccer championships is also supposed to tighten relations between Poland and Ukraine.

That is why authorities in both Poland and Ukraine treated the bicycle tour of a handful of Bandera enthusiasts so seriously. When the cyclists showed up at the Polish border, they were greeted by demonstrators waving signs commemorating the wartime carnage; their journey across Poland would certainly have been marked by many such incidents.

After the cyclists were turned away, Poland’s deputy interior minister, Tomasz Siemioniak, said that both Ukrainian and Polish ministers “wanted the best possible Polish-Ukrainian relations and to avoid unnecessary tensions.”