After the Second World War as a result of a mass relocation of the population resulting from a geopolitical change of Polish borders, many native inhabitants were forced to abandon their homes and resettle to the new locations. Around 620 thousand civilians were forcibly deported from Bieszczady Mountains, Beskid Niski, Beskid Sądecki, Pogórze Przemyskie and Roztocze as a consequence of two resettlement operations carried out in those areas. During the first enforced resettlement operation (1944-1946), called by Polish Communist propaganda a repatriation of Ukrainian minority, 480 000 native inhabitants of the south – eastern borderland were forcefully relocated to the Soviet Union. The second operation, codenamed the Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisła) was carried out between 1947 and 1950. 140 000 members of local minorities, including Boykos and Lemkos, post-war Ukrainian minority that dwelt in that territory, along with native Polish, who had belonged to the Orthodox Church, therefore considered Ukrainian, were forced to resettle to the Recovered Territories that had been a part of Germany before the Second World War. Firstly, the deserted villages were burnt down to the ground by the UPA guerrillas, who fighting for the independence of Ukraine wanted to prevent Polish resettlement of the area. Consequently, the troops of the Polish Army controlled by Polish Communist authorities burnt the remains of farms and households in order to remove the support base for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. In the aftermath of those operation nearly every sign of human presence was completely wiped out. Nowadays, many of these places bear no visible sign of human presence. The houses, both catholic and orthodox churches have not been preserved to this day. At times, only a slightly noticeable trace of human presence in the form of the house foundations, wells or graveyard stones densely overgrown with plants can be encountered. These areas carry on undergoing the intensive process of natural succession, which is a phenomenon on a European scale. What was left after the relocated villages, are a network of country roads, now leading nowhere. In some places the fields were composed into a terraced arrangement with some single fruit trees in between, which now seem to be abandoned witnesses of human existence. In spring, the blooming apple, plum or pear trees can be unexpectedly encountered in the middle of a forest, telling a silent story of people who used to live there. Both the solitary trees that were once planted around the domicile, as well as all the orchards are a characteristic sign of the abandoned places. However, a great deal of other species of plants can serve as silent witnesses to a human presence in those places. Among them we can find the crop plants such as gooseberries, redcurrants, hazelnut, walnut, and linden trees, accompanied by the ornamental plants that used to be cultivated in home gardens (such as rudbeckia lacinata, daffodils, iris, asters), the plants that are connected with certain rituals (periwinkle, evergreen boxwood, viburnum opulus). Finally, we can spot the plants that grew up after people had abandoned their homes and land. Stinging nettle, couch grass, or alpine dock seem to be a current reminder of the places that were once dwelt, and cultivated by people. The plants appear to have become a continuously reviving witness of human presence in the abandoned, once inhabited places. Due to a human activity the chemical components of soil and its structure have been changed. The introduced alternations are so significant that can give these plant species a way to survive for the next 600 years. Therefore, the knowledge of these plants can serve as a map helping to find the places where the resettled villages were located, and may become useful for reconstructing their topography. The plants can serve as an extraordinary key to a deeper understanding of that space.
Karolina Grzwnowicz is a multimedia artist and the author of interdisciplinary projects. She was graduated from Jagiellonian University, the Faculty of Comparative Literature. She is a grand holder of a scholarship of Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Her projects are based on an applied research, her installations are often rooted in narrative stories. She is fascinated with a narrative storytelling in its broadest sense and finds her deep interest in the phenomena of transient, ephemeral and disappearing nature. She lives and works in Cracow and London.
The project was carried out as a part of the programme 1/1 Master and Apprentice (1/1 Mistrz i Uczeń) by The Association of Creative Initiatives ‘ę’. The programme was financed with the assets of LOTTO Million Dreams Foundation.