The film Hatred (known as Wołyń in Polish), based on events surrounding the Volhynian massacre, led to an eruption of controversies between the historical perspectives of Poles and Ukrainians. The controversy surrounding the film stands as a symbol of how complicated coming to terms with the past in the present era is for Poland and Ukraine.
As is often the case in this region, the contested issue has been historical memory. The film is a love story about a Polish girl and a young Ukrainian man in the shadow of the Volhynian (Wołyń in Polish) massacre. This massacre consisted of mass murders of Poles by Ukrainians, inspired by nationalist ideology, coupled by (on a smaller scale) the retaliatory acts committed by Poles between 1943 and 1944 under Nazi Germany’s occupation. The director made sure to highlight the nuances involved in the episode: “Good” Ukrainians and “bad” Poles are put on display, as well as the hybrid identity of the territory’s inhabitants.
The film elicited critical reactions especially in Ukraine, although few critics actually had a chance to see it. The screening in Kyiv was cancelled by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs due to concerns related to the “security of the viewers”. One can only guess that this is related to the strategy of “holding pro-Russian journalists at bay,” as the distributor explained to the media. Surprisingly enough, the strategy has been effective; the film cannot be found in illegal distribution either.
The attractiveness of the film for the Russian propaganda machine is one of the main accusations coming from Ukrainians. A film showing Ukrainians as bloodthirsty fascists will surely work in favor of Moscow’s view of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and will reinforce crude stereotypes that are also present in the discourse of European media. However, as Smarzowski concluded, “there will never be a good moment” to screen this film.
The Polish premiere of Hatred a few years ago also fomented a huge discussion. For the far-right, Hatred is proof of the “constant enmity” between Poles and Ukrainians. Unfortunately, these voices have helped fuel growing xenophobic attitudes in Poland towards the increasing Ukrainian invasion.
Unfortunately, it seems that Hatred became fuel for anti-Ukrainian xenophobia, which used to be marginal but is now ever more present on the streets. For Ukrainians, unfortunately, it is not the best moment to settle with the mistakes of the past, and it does not seem that such a moment will come in the foreseeable future.