Monument in Rokytne

Piotr Jakubiak for New Pathway, Ottawa

During the First World War, both the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen and the Polish Legion were part of the Austro-Hungarian Army, fighting together against Russia. In autumn 1914, the 2nd Brigade of the Polish Legion was fighting in the Carpathian Ruthenia. In May 1915, it was moved to Bukovina and was fighting on the Austro-Russian frontier, east of Chernivtsi.

On June 12, 1915, the Brigade began to advance on Russian-held village of Rokytne in Bessarabia, on the east bank of the Rokitna stream. The Russian trenches were on a hill above the village, defended by artillery and machine guns. The Polish infantry was unable to take it. In the situation, in midday of June 13, the 2nd Uhlan Squadron under the command of Rotmistrz (Captain) Zbigniew Dunin-Wąsowicz performed a victorious charge on the four lines of the Russian trenches. The squadron suffered heavy losses and the fallen were buried in Ridkivtsi (Rarancha) in Bukovina.

In the summer of 2013, I was traveling to Ukraine, visited Kamyanets-Podilskyi, Khotyn and Chernivtsi. Then I got to Rokytna and found that the memorable charge was not in any way commemorated. I decided to erect a monument to the famous charge on the actual battlefield. I returned to Chernivtsi and made contact with the Polish Cultural Society in Chernivtsi, Mr. Petro Zhukovski and Prof. Władysław Strutyński, the Chairman of the Society. I found that they occasionally cared for the Polish Legion Cemetery in Ridkivtsi, but did not know much about Rokytne. They agreed to help me in erecting a monument on the battlefield in Rokytne.

In Poland, I found a man who was able to help me complete this project. He was Chief Inspector Roman Chandoha, the commander of the Riflemen from Trzebnica, who already put many a monument and restored many a Legion cemetery in Ukraine. Together with him I formed the Rokitna Monument Building Committee, of which Chandoha became chairman. The third member was Riflemen leader Paulina Młodzik. We also co-opted Dr. Jerzy Bukowski, a spokesman for veterans’ organizations in Krakow. My role was to collect funds and to promote the idea of erecting the monument. Collection in Poland yielded very little results because the Polish authorities refused any financial assistance. Most of the money came from the collection in Canada, where Mrs. Zofia Kata from Hamilton distinguished herself.

The trip from Przemysl to Chernivtsi takes a whole day. I made the trip twice, but Mr. Chandoha made it six times. First he had to choose the site for the monument, make necessary contacts with authorities, carry out the formalities at the offices, deal with bureaucracy, obtain all the permits, find the construction contractor and necessary help, negotiate price and so on. We prepared the development plans for two sites: the new monument in Rokytne and the existing Legion Cemetery in Ridkivtsi. Myself I devised the commemorative plaque for the monument in Rokytne with the inscription in both Polish and Ukrainian.

Inspector Chandoha involved to help TV Wroclaw (Studio East) and the Polish consul in Vinnitsa. Also joined the action Prof. Władysław Strutyński, who began organizing the ceremony of unveiling the monument. The local Ukrainian authorities have designated the place for the monument on the edge of the cemetery in Rokytne. The permit was issued finally on 9 June. Monument stood within 7 days and was unveiled on 17 June 2015, the centenary of the heaviest fighting of the Legion on the Bukovina-Bessarabia border.

The celebrations began with Holy Mass in the Cathedral of Chernivtsi, celebrated by Fr. Mark Droździk. Then all the people went by buses to Rokytne. The ceremony was attended by: Riflemen Association Brigadier Joseph Wodziński, riflemen from Trzebnica and from Lviv, TV Poland from Wroclaw, Polish consul in Vinnitsa Krzysztof Świderek, consuls of Romania and Austria, Polish priests and activists from Chernivtsi, two Polish choirs from Bukovina, the Ukrainian authorities from Ridkivtsi, Novoselytsya and Rokytne, residents of Rokytne. After the blessing of the monument by Fr. Droździk, wreaths were laid and a hundred of white and red candles lit. Inspector Chandoha performed roll-call of the fallen and the riflemen from Lviv under the command of Sgt. Eric Matecki were sworn in.

Then, similar ceremonies were held at the Legion Cemetery in Ridkivtsi, where also a new memorial plaque was installed, wreaths were laid and candles lit. A Ukrainian priest said the prayers here. I hope that the 2015 commemorative ceremonies in Bukovina will stay in memory of the local people and become a small contribution to the new Polish – Ukrainian friendship and alliance.