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Elections to the People's Assemblies of Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, which took place on October 22, 1939, were an attempt to legitimize the annexation of the Second Polish Republic by the Soviet Union following the September 17 Soviet invasion of Poland in accordance with the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Only one month after the eastern territories of Poland were occupied by the Red Army, the Soviet secret police and military led by the Party officials staged the local elections in an atmosphere of state terror.[1] The referendum was rigged. The ballot envelopes were numbered and often handed over already sealed. By design, the candidates were unknown to their constituencies which were brought to the voting stations by armed militias.[1] The results were to become the official legitimization of the Soviet takeover of what is known today as the Western Belorussia and the Western Ukraine.[2] Consequently, both Assemblies voted for incorporation of all formerly Polish voivodeships into the Soviet Union.[3]

At all voting stations, there were uniformed militia or soldiers, and names were checked on a list. Votin

Historian Rafal Wnuk, author of the book During the First Soviet,[8] described the election in the city of Lviv. According to his research, on the day of the election, the city was flooded with the Soviet propaganda posters. At the polling stations, the inhabitants were able to purchase alcohol products and foods otherwise not available on the market. In some cases, people were brought by force. As Bronislawa Stachowicz from Lviv recalled:

I was forced to vote, taken from our home only in slippers and a bathrobe. I was escorted by two militiamen and an NKVD agent, who did not let me put on my coat. My mother, brother, and sister were also forced to vote.[5]

At all voting st

At all voting stations, there were uniformed militia or soldiers, and names were checked on a list. Voting was monitored to such a degree that in some places people were given envelopes which had been already sealed, and told to drop them in the box.[6] Both the campaign and the election were presented as a "great holiday of the freed people". A Polish-language newspaper "Wolna Łomża" ("Free Łomża") wrote on October 22 that "suppressed by the Polish masters masses of Western Belorussia had been waiting for this day [October 22] for almost twenty years". Another newspaper, "Nowe Zycie" ("New Life") wrote: "Never before has the nation enjoyed so much freedom as now, given by the Red Army".

The result

The results of the election show the efficiency of the Stalinist state. According to the official data, in Western Ukraine, 93% voters took part in it,[9] and in Western Belorussia, 96%.[10] Party candidates garnered more than 90% of the popular vote. However, in some districts (11 in Ukraine, and 2 in Belorussia), the candidates were so unpopular, that they got less than half of the votes, and it was necessary to organize a second election. Among those eligible to vote, were soldiers of the Red Army, who had invaded these provinces just five weeks before. Polish historians noted some cases of civil disobedience, which took place despite widespread terror. In Białystok, people would put in cards with slogans such as "Long live Poland, Białystok is not Belorussia". In Hrodna, slogans on the walls were painted, which said "Down with the Bolsheviks, long live Poland", and in Pinsk, high school students handed leaflets stating: "Long live Poland, down with Communists".

Deputies, elected in the rigged election, formed two legislative bodies – the People's Assembly of Western Ukraine, and the People's Assembly of Western Belorussia (Russian: Народное (Национальное) собрание западной Белоруссии) on October 22, 1939, less than two weeks after the invasion.[11] Meetings of these bodies took place respectively on 26–28 October 1939 in Lviv, and 28–30 October in Białystok. The Lviv meeting was opened by Ukrainian philology professor Kyryl Studynsky, and the Białystok meeting - by Belorussian peasant Stepan Strug. Out of 926 members of the People's Assembly of Western Belorussia, there were 621 Belorussians, 127 Poles, 72 Jews, 43 Russians, 53 Ukrainians, and 10 from other nationalities.[5] The Western Ukraine's People's Assembly had 1,482 members, out of which Poles made only 3%.[12] Both bodies supported the establishment of Soviet rule over the occupied territories, and issued official requests to the Supreme Soviet, asking it for permission to join the already existing Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Also, all real estate of landowners, churches and state officials, was confiscated without compensation (including buildings and animals). Banks and larger factories were nationalized, and September 17 was established as an official holiday. Meetings of both Assemblies were based on criticism of interbellum Poland, describing "exterminational policies of White Polish occupiers, bloodsuckers and landowners", who suppressed "Ukrainian and Belorussian masses".[13] People's Assembly of Western Ukraine wrote an official letter, which was sent to the Belorussia Assembly. Among others, it said: "We were brothers in captivity and struggle against Polish masters. Now we have become brothers in freedom and happines. Great Red Army, fulfilling the wishes of the mighty Soviet nations, has come here and for centuries freed us, Western Ukrainians and Western Belorussians, from suppression of Polish landowners and capitalists".[14]

On November 1, the Supreme Soviet approved annexation of Western Ukraine, and on the next day, of Western Belorussia. On November 14, the Supreme Soviet of Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in Minsk officially annexed former territories of northeastern Poland, without the area of Wilno, which had been seized by Lithuania. On November 15, the Supreme Soviet of Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in Kiev, annexed former southeastern Poland. On November 29, the Supreme Soviet issued a decree upon which all inhabitants of Poland living in Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia became citizens of the Soviet Union. This decision had a far-reaching consequences, because now, the NKVD apparatus had legal reasons to arrest members of prewar political parties of Poland, accusing them of anti-Soviet activity.[15] Furthermore, the Supreme Soviet's decree resulted in massive draft into the Red Army. Polish historian Rafal Wnuk estimates that 210 000 inhabitants of former eastern Poland, born in 1917, 1918, and 1919, ended up in the Red Army.[13] After official annexation of Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, both Assemblies were dissolved.

See also