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Kresy Family

Z Kresów Wschodnich R.P. Wspomnienia z Osad Wojskowych 1921-1940 
(From: The Eastern Borderlands of Poland, Memories of Military Settlements 1921-1940)
Pub: Ognisko Rodzin Osadników Kresowych (OROK) (Association of the Families of the Borderland Settlers) 
London, UK. 1992 and 1998
ISBN 1 872286 33 X 

Province (Województwo) WOŁYŃ


Municipality (Gmina) Sijańce
District (Powiat) Zdołbunów

In the Pruski settlement there were plots belonging to 9 military settlers, out of which only 7 lived there permanently:
         sergeant Antoni Gronowski - married, 3 children;
         private Piotr Kisała - married, 4 children;
         staff sergeant Franciszek Kuhn - married, 2 children;
         Mandrak - I do not know the details, he did not live in the settlement;
         lance-corporal [1] Feliks Mróz
         a professional soldier, captain Stefan Mróz - married, 2 children, did not live in the settlement;
         master corporal [2] Stanisław Pawlak - married, 2 children;
         private 1st class [3] Jan Poplewski - married, 2 children;
         lance-corporal Wacław Stępniewski (my father) - married, 2 children.

Feliks Mróz and Wacław Stępniewski were decorated with the Cross of Valor [4] and other decorations. Some settlers in addition to farming served as village mayors [5].

Our settlement, like the whole chain of other border settlements, did not have its own school because it was too small. Settlers’ children attended the nearest local schools. Older children, who wanted to finish 7 years of primary school or to go to high school, had to go to schools in Ostróg on the Horyń river or in Równe. From the inhabitants of our settlement, I was the only one going to the state high school.

The living conditions were standard for that time, but certainly not easy, since the young settlers had a lot of trouble with the Ukrainians. The border with the Bolsheviks was not secure and located only a few kilometres away. At nights, Ukrainian-Soviet saboteur gangs used to cross the border to murder and destroy. They did whatever they wanted. My father often recalled how he used to jump out of bed at night, grab a gun and run outside, since he was afraid that the saboteurs would murder his family or neighbours.

To pacify the bandits and the Ukrainian-Soviet saboteur gangs along the entire Wołyń and Podole border, the Polish Government sent so-called punitive expeditions to the Ukrainian border villages. Among others, in the neighbouring village of Czerniachów, a squadron of cavalry was stationed for a year to get rid of the bandits. This operation helped to a certain degree but hatred against the Poles and Ukrainian nationalism remained to the very end.

Naturally, not all Ukrainians were negatively predisposed against settlers. With time, quite acceptable relationships developed with some families. They would come to work, served for entire years. The settlers would frequently help the people in the village in various ways; they (in turn) would invite them to weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies.

The village close to our settlement burned frequently. Father always ran to help. He directed the firefighting, helped and worked very hard. The locals appreciated it greatly, respected him for it and considered him a good neighbour and a good Pole. Many times he mediated feuds or protected the weak. Despite the village's bad reputation, because murders were frequent and once even the village mayor, settler Fr. Kuhn was shot, my father never came to any harm.

Until the thirties, settlers from all local settlements together with the whole Catholic population, which was not numerous, belonged to the remote and rich parish in Ostróg. In the thirties, a new parish was formed in the large Polish settlement of Ożenin, which was located much closer. First, the settlers helped to build a beautiful church and later they actively participated in church ceremonies.

The majority of settlers actively participated in the social and national life. They frequented Polish dances, performances and celebrations, most often organized by the local population, the military and schools. In the settlement a lack of a larger space made it difficult to organize events; so usually one would go to other places. In wintertime, the parish priest would typically visit houses [6], in summertime, he would visit occasionally to celebrate mass.

The settlement was part of the Military Settlers Association [7]. The settlers belonged to the Military Federation [8], the Agricultural Association [9]. Newspapers were delivered to the settlement: "Polska Zbrojna" [10], and "Gazeta Gospodarcza" [11] from Wielkopolska [12].

Father's farm was classified as a "model farm" so twice a year we were visited by a county inspector, who stayed for the entire week and wrote lengthy reports.

Out of the eight settler's wives, four originated from the local population. I do not remember well, whether in 1927 or 1928, the settlers in Stare Pruski received their newly granted plots and started to slowly build on the new land. These plots were not far from the old buildings.

At the beginning, right after demobilization, my father together with eight friends received a farm estate named Pruski, together with wonderful farmland and forest, all of which had no owner. This strange place name was explained by a story that once, in the old days, this estate had belonged to a Prussian. The manor house was no longer there but some of the satellite buildings remained. These were not village huts but one could say prosperous houses, even though not infrequently old and neglected. In these houses the new settlers started to live, joining the local populace. There was no owner and nobody knew what had happened to him. All, including the government authorities, were convinced that he perished during the revolution somewhere in Russia where thousands of landowners and magnates were viciously murdered. For that reason the Polish authorities granted this land to a handful of former soldiers. At the beginning, they all farmed together and the relatively large area of land was yielding sizeable harvests. Working this land was relatively easy and despite the fact that the settlers knew little about farming, with the help of the local people and cheap labour they quickly got things going, and more importantly - made a fortune. They farmed it together and split the profits.

Unfortunately, this idyll lasted only a few years because out of nowhere the owner of the estate reappeared in France and started to sue the Polish government for illegal seizure of his property. After years of court battles, he won the case and the material status of the settlers changed radically for the worse.

The military settlement of Pruski, like other military settlements, sat like an islet in a sea inhabited by the Ukrainian people. Our settlement was located close to the Ukrainian village of Czerniachów, on the river Horyń. North of Pruski; some 4 kilometres away, was the village Michałkowce; south, some 3 kilometres away, the village and train station Mogilany; and 2 kilometres to the southeast, a very large village called Milatyn. The train station Mogilany was located on the Warsaw-Kiev railway line, it was supposed to be halfway between Warsaw and Kiev - 500 kilometres each way. The next train station to the east was Szepietówka which was already on the Soviet side. Further on, were Zasław and Berdyczów. On the Polish side, to the west of Mogilno, was the train station Ożenin, a large Polish colony and the large, beautiful estate of the Ożeniński family.

I was talking earlier about the villages, mostly Ukrainian, but should mention that the estates were exclusively Polish. The next train station was Zdołbunów, a rail junction, a county town located 20 kilometres from us. A larger town and train station was Równe, some 30 km from Pruski. Close to Mogilany along the road to Ostróg, was Kurhany, a village, next to which was a military settlement with the same name. One would usually drive through it when travelling to Ostróg. In a beautiful pine forest which separated Mogilany from Kurhany, there were huge mounds along the river Horyń. A legend claimed that these were large mass graves from the time of civil wars; a rebellion of Cossacks against Polish magnates, when in the 17th century Chmielnicki led a fierce war in the Polish Borderlands. The neighbouring villages Mogilany [13] and Kurhany [14] took their names from these mounds. Apart from that, in Kurhany was located a large outpost of the Border Protection Corps, of which a company was stationed. This base supplied the border posts.

The next village after Kurhany, along the road to Ostróg, was Wielbowne. After crossing this village one entered a large levee over 2 km long, which reached across the entire huge Horyń reservoir. This levee was interrupted by bridges and the road across it led to an old, historical fort from the 15th century and to a castle of the Ostrogski counts, as well as to the town of Ostróg.

Southwest of Pruski, across fields and later through a beautiful forest, after some 5 km, one would get to the Grzegorówka colony. If one were to ride on the main highway from Czerniachow, before Grzegorówka, on the left, beyond Horyń the village Stadniki was located, with a large estate and a manor house. It belonged to the Mogielnicki family and was located on the river. In the times I am now remembering there was no bridge,  so if one wanted to get across to the village, one had to take a ferry.

Riding from our place, on the left side of Grzegorówka, also across the river, one would pass the village of Koleśniki and on the right Michałkowce. In each of these villages the manor house would frequently be uninhabited or rented out. In Michałkowice, the manor belonged to Markiewicz. A young landlord lived there, whom I did not know, and who apparently considered himself Ukrainian.

Beyond the Grzegorówka colony, and to which the colony administratively belonged, was located a large village - Bucharew. On the other side of Michałkowice was a small military settlement Zawizów. These were the neighbouring settlements of Pruski. I would like to add that Grzegorówka was inhabited by a mixture of Polish, Ukrainian, Czech and Russian nationalities. Apart from the nearest, purely Polish military settlements, Kurhan on one side and Zawizów on the other side of Ożenin and Grzegorówka, all the local villages were Ukrainian, so that the military settlements were small islets of Poles within a Ukrainian sea, at least in this part of Wołyń.

In the new Pruski the following soldiers received plots: Piotr Kisała, Antoni Gronowski, Franciszek Kuhn, Mandrak, Feliks Mróz, capt. Stefan Mróz, Stanisław Pawlak, Jan Poplewski and Wacław Stępniewski.

All had to build farm buildings on their plots, except for Feliks Mroz and Cpt. Stefan Mroz. Feliks was a bachelor and did not much care, and Stefan was a professional officer in the Border Protection Corps. Feliks worked normally on his farmland, but Stefan Mróz and Mandrak rented their plots out. However, a few years before the war, Stefan built a house and was planning to settle down permanently after his retirement.

Our farm was located in the middle of the osada and our closest neighbours were Mandrak, Polewski and Pawlak. The best land next to the village went to Gronowski, Kuhn and Cpt. Mróz, the worst to Kisała and Mandrak. The size of a farm was dependent on the fertility of the land.

For the next couple of years, all the settlers made improvements to their farms, put up new buildings, planted orchards and in general tried to prosper. Certainly, many of them experienced hardships. I know that in the summer we had a lot of various fruits, vegetables and other produce. We raised many pigs to sell and a lot of poultry for our own consumption since it was not easy to sell them and frequently one would have to sell them for close to nothing.

From September of 1934 until the war I lived in Ostróg on Horyń where I first attended a primary school and later three years at the Maria Konopnicka state high school. On the settlement I was a guest, for vacations or scout camps. One of the happiest vacations was in August of 1939 when we hosted visitors from the settler's dormitory in Warsaw for a whole week.

[1] starszy ułan
[2] plutonowy
[3] starszy szeregowy
[4] Krzyż Walecznych
[5] wójt gminy

[6]"po kolędzie" - a traditional post Christmas visitation of parishioners' homes by the local priest
[7] Związek Osadników Wojskowych

[8] Federacja Wojskowa

[9] Kółko Rolnicze

[10] Military Poland
[11] Business News
[12] Greater Poland, a historical region of west-central Poland with the main city of Poznań

[13] "mogiła" - grave

[14] "kurhan" - barrow

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