It was a dark chapter in an often brutal history. But now Russia and Poland appear to be trying to heal wounds as they prepare to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.
In what is the first joint ceremony, Poland’s premier Donald Tusk and his Russian counterpart Vladmir Putin will pay homage today to the 22,000 Polish officers slaughtered by Soviet forces during the second world war.
Polish Historian Marek Lasota said: ‘‘I’d like to believe if Prime Minister Putin really does take part in these ceremonies, it means the Russians are not avoiding responsibility for the past. That it wants to articulate its feelings towards this crime.’‘
It was only in 1990 that President Mikhail Gorbachev admitted the killings had been carried out 70 years previously by the Soviet secret police on the orders of Joseph Stalin.
Now, it is hoped the ceremony will help heal historical divisions.
‘‘It’s one of the barriers to improving relations between not only the leaders but the people as well. People are deeply hurt that we don’t share their pain, that we’re hiding the truth,’‘ said Russian Natalia Lebedeva.
For 50 years the Soviet Union blamed the massacre on the Nazis who uncovered the mass graves.
Nevertheless, even though today’s ceremony is being seen as symbolic, many Poles remain angry that Russia refuses to declare Katyn as a war crime.