As part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of Non-Aggression, eastern territories of Poland, most importantly Halychyna, were incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. After the Red Army marched into Lviv on 17 September 1939, the peoples of Western Ukraine were proclaimed liberated from the bourgeois nationalist government of Poland and a sham Assembly was convened in October, which asked the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to untied Western Ukraine with Soviet Ukraine. Thousands of Party activists and NKVD operatives were dispensed to Western Ukraine to carry out the Sovietization of Western Ukraine.

Austro-Hungarian rule (to 1918) and then Polish rule (1919-39) in Western Ukraine had been more benign than Tsarist and Soviet rule in the rest of Ukraine. Western Ukraine therefore became the piedmont of the struggle for an independent Ukraine. The two years of occupation that followed saw the use of repression and terror in Western Ukraine that equaled and even surpassed the Great Terror of 1936-38 in the USSR. Real and perceived enemies of the Soviet regime were ruthlessly attacked. The primary organ of repression was the NKVD; the Sovietization of Western Ukraine was overseen by Stalin’s envoy in Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev.

The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Ukrainian cooperatives, the Greek Catholic Church, the Communist Party of Western Ukraine and Ukrainian press were brutally repressed. The collectivization of the villages began, which was met with stiff resistance; by 1941 15% of agriculture in Western Ukraine was collectivized. The Russian language became mandatory for all pupils.

From 1939 to 1941 1.2 million people were deported from Western Ukraine to the Soviet East, including 400 000 Ukrainians. These numbers represented some 10 % of the population of Western Ukraine. Many of the members of the nationally conscious intelligentsia and national leadership in Western Ukraine were repressed “on the spot.” It is estimated that some 15 000 people were shot during the Red Terror in Western Ukraine from September 1939-June 1941. After the outbreak of war between the USSR and Germany in June 1941 22 000 people were shot in eastern Ukrainian NKVD prisons in June-July 1941 as the Red Army retreated.

The brutal repression of Western Ukraine from 1939-1941 is but one of the cycles of repression that were a fundamental characteristic of the Soviet political system.