A monument to the Soviet soldiers who died during the liberation of Poland from the fascist occupation in 1944-1945, officially opened after the restoration in the Polish city of Zabkowice Slaskie on August 28, 2018. The memorial was restored by Mikhail Ognev, Head of the Voronezh Regional Public Organization “The Strength is in Unity”, Adviser to the President of “Club of Veterans of the State Security”. The social activist told the RIA “Voronezh” correspondent about the reasons for his deed and the emotions he felt when doing it.

Photo – Mikhail Kiryanov

Mikhail’s grandfather, Voronezh front-line soldier Nikolay Ognev, was liberating Poland, and after the war, he neutralized the remaining mines and ammunition in the streets. The Polish authorities awarded the soldier two crosses for this. The first – for services to the Polish Republic, the second, the Cross of Grunwald, – for valor in the struggle against the occupiers for the freedom and independence of Poland.

The Cross of Grunwald is a quite rare reward. 2.5 thousand crosses were awarded until the end of 1945. My grandfather’s cross is number 106, that is, he received it among the second hundred for knocking the Fritz from Poland. The son of Joseph Stalin, Vasily, was among the award recipients. My grandfather fought near the town of Zabkowice Slaskie. He had many awards, but he was especially proud of these crosses, Mikhail Ognev said.

Photo – Mikhail Kiryanov

Mikhail remembers well the stories of his grandfather-front-line soldier. In the summer of 1941, he left his native village Korotoyak in Ostrogozhsky District for the front. He transported products to Leningrad along the “road of life” with his comrades. He ate the flour dissolved in rain water. Those who had been fighting side by side with his grandfather died before his granddad’s eyes. He is no longer alive, but his family keeps the memory of him. So, when the grandson of the front-line soldier saw the old ruined memorial of the Soviet liberators at the soldiers’ cemetery in one of the small Polish towns, he immediately decided that he would do anything to restore it.

Photo – from Mikhail Ognev’s archive  

– I have an acquaintance who lives in Zabkowice Slaskie. He invited me to visit the city, which was called Frankenstein before the war. It is believed that the novel about the famous monster is based on the mystical stories that took place in this city. I visited it in March 2018. I returned home, contacted Polish social activists. They helped me with the organizational issues, Mikhail Ognev recalled. – At first there were fears that somebody would put a spoke into our wheel, because the monuments related to the Great Patriotic War are being demolished now in Poland. But, fortunately, everything went peacefully.

The memorial is located in the center of the soldiers’ cemetery, where 91 Red Army men were buried (48 of them could not be identified). The remains of the last warrior were reburied here in 1949.

Photo – from Mikhail Ognev’s archive  

The monument was reconstructed for several months. We removed the mold, reinforced, plastered, painted the monument. We spent about 250 thousand rubles for the renovation. The major part of the sum was paid by Mikhail Ognev. Representatives of Russian public organizations “The Strength is in Unity”, “For Real Deeds”, “The Club of Veterans of State Security” and the Russian Section of the International Police Association helped him with the finances and solving the organizational questions.

According to Mikhail, he felt the strongest emotions not at the opening of the monument, but later, on the grave of his grandfather.

– He is buried in his native village. When I came to his grave after the reconstruction, I felt such emotions that I could not explain, but it seemed to me that my grandfather started to look at me from the photograph on the monument differently. He would be glad of such an event, the grandson of the front-line soldier is sure. – I have a commercial project, which allowed me to carry out the reconstruction of the monument. I did this for several reasons. First, in memory of my grandfather and all the Soviet fighters who fought against fascism. Secondly, I want to show that all this Russophobic sentiment in Poland is pushed by the politicians. Polish social activists said that Russophobia in Poland comes from Warsaw, from the Government. Ordinary people do not support this, but the authorities want to impose this sentiment.

Photo – Mikhail Kiryanov

While restoring the monument in a small town, Mikhail hasn’t heard a single bad word about Russian and Soviet monuments. Both town officials and local residents support the idea of the reconstruction.

The restoration and installation of the monument were held with the participation of the Polish section of the International Police Association and the Commonwealth of KURSK involved reconstruction of military and historic monument and cultural objects on the territory of Poland.

Photo – from Mikhail Ogvev’s archive

Mikhail isn’t stopping at the monument in Ząbkowice Śląskie. According to him, Poland alone has approximately 600 monuments to Soviet warriors that require reconstruction.

– We have applied for a presidential grant, it would really help us with the reconstruction. Why do we want to reconstruct monuments in Poland in particular? The situation with the destruction of monuments is the tensest there. Our Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Anti-Russian sentiment was being inculcated in Poland, which is primarily expressed in wrecking monuments, - Ognev noted.

Photo – Mikhail Kiryanov

RIA “Voronezh” note for information

In June of 2017, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland (the lower house of the Polish parliament which represents the legislative power of the state) approved the amendments to the law of “About the Prohibition of Communism or Other Totalitarian Regime”. It gave the municipal authorities the right to demolish monuments related to the USSR era. But the dismantling of memorials dedicated to Soviet soldiers began even before the amendments were approved.

In September of 2015, the Mayor of the town of Pieniężno initiated the dismantlement of the General Chernyakhovsky bas-relief. The monument in honor of twice the Hero of the Soviet Union, the key participant of the Battle for Voronezh who defended the city from the summer of 1942 to January of 1943, was created in the 70s on the outskirts of Pieniężno (where the general was gravely wounded in 1945). The bas-relief was handed over to the Institute of National Remembrance of Poland under the auspices of which they are planning to create the Historic Education Center to store monuments, busts and на planks dismantled in different Polish cities.

Ai the same time, the City Hall of another Polish town, Rzeszów, spoke against dismantling Soviet monuments located on its territory including the seven-meter tall obelisk mounted over the grave of a Voronezh Region native, Hero of the Soviet Union Ivan Terkenich.