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History of Tluste/Tovste from a Polish Perspective


The following pages give an overview of the history of Tluste/Tovste and of the region in which it is situated from the perspective of the Polish population, one of three principal ethnic groups that co-existed there. Jewish and Ukrainian perspectives each receive their own treatment elsewhere in dedicated overviews while the section ‘Tluste - Life and Times’ attempts to give an overall impression of what the town was like between 1880 and 1930.

While their histories are necessarily intertwined, a case can be made for presenting these ethnic perspectives separately. Although they lived side-by-side for many centuries, persistent tensions among these communities ensured that they maintained distinct identities and separate affiliations throughout their long co-existence.

Each of these overviews is a work in progress. They will be supplemented by additional information as it comes to light. Indeed, there are many rich sources of historical information already at hand, waiting to be translated into English from the original Hebrew, Polish or Ukrainian texts. While no claim is made that the information presented here is comprehensive, it should nonetheless give a fairly good sense of the social interactions, over time, among these three communities.  

Ancient history

The ancient history of the region in which Tovste is located is rife with conflict, foreign invasion, and battles for territorial control. Among the main participants in this struggle – which lasted from at least the tenth through thirteenth centuries – were the “Lekhs”, the tribes that gave rise to Polish ethnicity, and the “Ruthenians”, forbearers of the Ukrainian people.

There was extensive interpenetration and intercrossing of Polish and Ruthenian populations in the region in the twelfth century (1). The land then known as Halicz, after the latinized name of the principality’s capital, was effectively under the control of Kievian princes. However their domination was challenged by both internal and external threats, which eventually brought about the dissolution of the Kievian state. Invasions from the east – by the Pechangs, the Turkic-speaking Polovtsy, and ultimately the (Mongol) Tartars – undermined the Kievan princes’ ability to govern (2). In the second half of the thirteenth and during the fourteenth century, the south-eastern areas were largely denuded of their population owing to these numerous Tartar incursions (3).

In 1325, the Halicz nobility, or boyars, called to the throne a Polish prince who upon his death in 1340 was succeeded by the Polish King Casimir the Great. With the death of the two remaining Kievian princes, around the middle of the fourteenth century, the territory was up for grabs. The neighbouring powers of Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary were well positioned to share the spoils. Several decades of rivalry among them followed, with renewed incursions of Tartars thrown in for good measure.

A rearrangement of the borders in 1366 saw the territory west of the Seret river, which included Tluste, come into Polish possession (4). Under Wladyslaw II Jagiello, the newly elected king of Poland, Ruthenia was recovered from Hungary in 1387. In 1399, the Tartars defeated Lithuanian forces at the River Vorskla, but at the cost of a weakened offensive Tartar threat. As for the Lithuanians, the defeat in battle effectively ended the ambitions of Lithuanian ruler, Vytautas, to extend his influence over southern Russia

These events set the stage for Tluste, as it was known then, and the surrounding region to become an integral part of the vast Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The town was situated at the westernmost extremity of the province of Podolia, just west of the Seret river, bordered to the north by the province of Volhynia.

Austrian influence

This relatively stable territorial configuration lasted for 450 years from the fourteenth century until 1772, when Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland in the first of three territorial divisions.

Austria acquired the regions of Little Poland (Malopolska) south of the Vistula River, western Podolia, and the rest of an area that subsequently became known collectively as Galizien or Galicia.


1790 map showing Galizien  and Tluste  (far right)

Click on map to enlarge

Eastern Galicia, which was to remain in Austrian hands for 150 years, was granted extensive autonomy and was said to have retained its Polish character despite Austrian attempts to subvert it. “[C]enturies of incorporation in the Polish Commonwealth left a lasting legacy. In the eastern part of Galicia the princes, nobles, and gentry – owners of land and for centuries wielders of power – were either of Polish extraction or, if Ukrainian, had for the most part become thoroughly Polonized. That is, they had accepted the language, culture, religion, and way of life of their Polish peers.”  (5)

Writing in 1948, Skrzypek (6) explains:

    “Immediately after the Austrian troops had entered Galicia in 1772, the Emperor Joseph II. forbade the wearing of Polish national costume, and soon afterwards an intensive colonization of the land with Germans was begun. All the administrative posts were occupied by Germans. The Polish language was forbidden in schools, and the ancient University of Lwow was transformed into a German university in 1794. The Austrian authorities also did their utmost to provoke hatred between the Polish and Ruthenian peoples, who hitherto had lived in harmony together.

    But Austria's internal weakness brought the attempts to Germanise Poles to nothing, and, in the end, Vienna was obliged to restore some degree of national liberty in Galicia, though later than in other parts of the monarchy.

    The only achievement of which Austria could boast was the stimulation of a Ukrainian movement. As late as the middle of the 19th century there was still no great difference between the Poles and Ruthenians in Eastern Galicia; they constituted one organism. Educated Ruthenians spoke Polish, the sons of the Ruthenian clergy and intellectuals took part in the Polish secret organizations for independence, and many of them marched side by side with Poles in the 1831 and 1863 risings. The Greek Catholic bishops wrote their pastoral letters in Polish, and the Greek Catholic professors of theology at the Lwow University lectured in Polish, against the wishes of the Austrian authorities. Not until the latter half of the 19th century did a Ukrainian movement begin to develop, and even then it could not compete with the Polish influence. When during the "constitutional era" Galicia was granted autonomy in 1860, the Regional Seym in Lwow and all the other public institutions at once acquired a Polish character. The Polish element was so strong in the country that when, in 1861, steps were taken to reform Lwow University, it was transformed into a Polish institution. Other high educational institutions in Lwow (the Technical College and the Veterinary College) used Polish as the language of instruction.

    Polish influences shaped the cultural features of the Ruthenian population. This was also the case in the language sphere; the Polish language strongly influenced the development of the Ruthenian (Ukrainian) language, which contains a large proportion of words of Polish origin. In their social and civil ideas and customs the Ruthenian population was greatly influenced by Polish examples.”

In Tluste and its immediate vicinity, however, census figures between 1880 and 1930 reveal that the Polish population was a distinct minority. Poles never constituted more than about 12 percent of the population of Tluste during that time, and less than 25 percent of the combined population of Tluste and the surrounding villages of Holowczynce, Rozanowka, Tluste Wies, Korolowka, and Angelowka (listed in order of size). Nevertheless, Poles were said to occupy a very significant, disproportionate percentage of the posts in the town’s administration (7).

The development of eastern Galicia as a whole was clearly influenced by Austrian policy. According to Skrzypek (8), Austria deliberately impeded the development of industry in Galicia, following the partitions of Poland, fearing the loss of a market for its own products. As a consequence, in spite of its rich mineral resources, the territory was relegated to the role of a corn producer and retained a markedly agricultural character. This is consistent with a strategy outlined early on, in secret report of the Austrian Commission of 1791:

“The real interests of the Austrian monarchy require that this [Polish] nation should be slowly transformed into a German population; that its customs and mode of thought and prejudices should be changed; in a word, that it should be denationalised. The surest guarantee against a desire to return to the [Polish] Republic will be the introduction of differences in behaviour, national customs, and speech, between Galicia and Poland.” (9)

The century and a half of Austrian rule and influence would end with the onset of World War I. In the second half of 1914, Tluste came under Russian occupation and remained so until September 1915, when the Russians were forced out by the Austrian-German armies. Russian troops again returned to Tluste in June 1916 and remained there until July 1917. (10).

Inter-war years

After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Austria’s defeat, political control was transferred to a Ukrainian committee. On 31 October 1918, Ukrainian political leaders declared a “Western Ukrainian National Republic”, and Ukrainian forces occupied Lvov on 1 November. Within days, armed conflict began between Poles and Ukrainians over rival claims to territory. Lvov was subsequently recaptured by Polish forces on or about 22 November 1918. (11)

On 25 June 1919, a decision of the Allied Supreme Council authorized Polish armed forces – then at war with Soviet Union – to extend their operations eastward to the river Zbrucz (12). In the course of the following month of July, Polish forces regained control over the whole of Galicia.

Poland and the Soviet Union agreed a truce in October 1920. On 18 March 1921 the Treaty of Riga was signed between Poland, Russia and Ukraine, whereby Poland retained eastern Galicia. Two years later, on 15 March 1923, a Conference of Ambassadors recognized the frontiers of Poland as including the eastern part of Galicia, whilst confirming that that territory’s “ethnographical conditions necessitate an autonomous regime”(13).

Ukrainians in Poland were indeed a minority with a strong sense of national separateness and far-reaching national aspirations; nevertheless, it is claimed that they were given considerable freedom to develop their own political, cultural and economic life (14). The Polish constitution of 1921 granted Ukrainian people the same rights as were granted to Poles, and a law of 31 July 1924 was supposed to assure Ukrainians the right to use their own language in their relations with local authorities, in courts and legal documents.
The reality was probably rather different. The photograph, opposite, of a large demonstration in front of Tluste city hall in 1930, during the period of Polish “pacification”, most likely had its roots in Ukrainian discontent of the current state of affairs.   Demonstration in front of Tluste city hall in 1930

There was evidence, for example, of dissatisfaction with the school system, where the primary language of instruction was Polish. The Polish authorities discouraged learning the Ukrainian language, instruction of which was limited to one hour per week, and often found reason to substitute the lone Ukrainian class for something else, such as physical training (15). In December 1930, parents submitted declarations demanding introduction of Ukrainian as language of instruction in Tluste schools (16).

Four years later, in 1934, Poland denounced the Treaty for the Protection of Minorities, citing its unequal application by various States, whilst claiming that the rights of its minorities would remain unaffected (17). In the period of Polish rule, a number of Ukrainian political parties garnered public support, among them the moderate Ukrainian National Democratic Union (Ukrainski Natsionalno-Demokratichne Obyedinienie), known as UNDO. Immediately prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, on 24 August 1939, UNDO issued a manifesto calling for Ukrainians to carry out all their duties towards the Polish State in the event of Germany declaring war. Skrzypek notes further that Ukrainians voluntarily joined the army and fought alongside the Poles to resist the Nazi invasion (18).

Skrzypek contrasts UNDO’s consensual approach with the hard-line stance of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which he branded an ‘instrument of German policy’, receiving material support from the Germans for acts of sabotage and terrorism. (Membership of OUN was eventually made illegal and an offence under the Polish State, which only further inflamed Polish-Ukrainian relations.)

Aside from these political dimensions, what did eastern Galicia look like during the interwar period? Overall population statistics for eastern Galicia suggest an increase in the Polish population relative to Ukrainians although, as was pointed out elsewhere, Poles in Tluste and surrounding villages were always a minority. A number of contributing factors have been cited for the increase: a higher rate of mortality among Ukrainians, a higher rate of emigration of Ukrainians to European countries and the Americas, as well as an influx of Poles from the western part of Galicia – partly in response to agrarian reform and redistribution of land (i.e. larger, mainly Polish, estates). These included professionals, workers attracted to a newly developing oil industry, and rural inhabitants in search of more fertile soil (19).

The Polish population was said to be a very heterogeneous group (i.e. peasantry, urban inhabitants and intellectuals) engaged in a broad range of activities, including agriculture/forestry, crafts and industry, trade and communications, as well as public services and education. This contrasted with the Ukrainian population, whose occupational structure was more uniform and was, in the majority, associated with the agricultural sector; and the Jewish population which was mainly involved in trade and communications, as well as crafts and industry (20). Interestingly, as a sign of rapprochement between the Ukrainian and Polish communities, statistics for 1927 show that 16.2 percent of the total number of marriages contracted in eastern Galicia were of mixed Polish-Ukrainian ethnicity (21).

Eastern Galicia continued to be an important source of agricultural production, at the expense of industrial output. Statistics from 1936, quoted by Skrzypek (22), reveal that field crop production from eastern Galicia represented 16 percent of Poland’s total production, reflecting the following individual percentages: rye (10.9), wheat (27.2), oats (18.3), barley (17.8) and potatoes (14.9). Tobacco production was especially prolific (45.9 percent) in Stanislwow and Tarnopol provinces. The territory also contributed 20 percent of Poland’s export of butter, 62 percent of the eggs and poultry, 12 percent of the meat and bacon produce, and 40 percent of the timber. The relative percentage of production of livestock in Eastern Galicia in 1938 was as follows: horses and cattle (17.7), pigs (10.4) and sheep (11.4).   

End of Polish administration

The potential for further economic development under a Polish regime was soon to be curtailed, as Poland’s control over Galicia came to an end with the onset of the Second World War. In September 1939, citing the disintegration of the Polish State and Government, the Soviet Union announced its intention to occupy Western Ukraine (23). The so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement of 28 September 1939, between Germany and the Soviet Union, formalised the incorporation of eastern Galicia into Soviet territory (24). Soviet forces soon occupied towns such as Tluste, Zaleszczyki and Horodenka, bringing to an end the association of this territory with the Polish State.

According to Skrzypek (25), “all political life died out, the editors of the various periodicals disappeared, and Ukrainian politicians and leaders were treated exactly like the Poles – they were arrested and condemned to forced labour in concentration camps as ‘enemies of the people’.” A new chapter in Ukrainian history was about to begin.   

(1) Pawlowski, S. cited in Skrzypek, S. The Problem of Eastern Galicia. London, 1948. p. 19.

(2) Kowalski, S. “Jazlowiec: The Town Lost in History”. Chapter II.

(3) Skrzypek, S. The Problem of Eastern Galicia. London, 1948. p. 20.

(4) Kowalski, S. “Jazlowiec: The Town Lost in History”. Chapter II.

(5) Hryniuk, S. Peasants with Promise: Ukrainians in Southeastern Galicia 1880-1900. Edmonton, 1991. p. 1

(6) Skrzypek, S. The Problem of Eastern Galicia. London, 1948. p. 31.

(7) Pawlyk, J. pers.comm.

(8) Skrzypek, S. The Problem of Eastern Galicia. London, 1948. p. 36.

(9) Ibid. p. 30.

(10) Pawlyk, J. History of Tovste. Chortkiv, 2000. p. 52.

(11) Skrzypek, S. The Problem of Eastern Galicia. London, 1948. p. 4.

(12) Ibid. pp. 4, 65.

(13) Ibid. p.5, 74.

(14) Ibid. p. 44.

(15) Kurilyuk, E. pers. comm.

(16) Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine, Lviv: Fond 179, Opus 2, Sprava 3383.

(17) Skrzypek, S. The Problem of Eastern Galicia. London, 1948. p. 55.

(18) Ibid. pp. 45-47.

(19) Ibid. pp. 20-26.

(20) Ibid. pp. 27-29.

(21) Ibid. p. 23.

(22) Ibid. p. 37.

(23) Ibid. p. 75.

(24) Ibid. p. 10.

(25) Ibid. p. 57.