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Film / Volhynia

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The borderland people were killed twice. First with an axe, then with silence. And the second death was worse.
—Opening quote

A 2016 Polish epic war drama written and directed by Wojciech Smarzowski, Volhynia is the first theatrical release describing the events leading up to and the Volhynian Slaughter of 1943 itself. note  The screenplay was based both on historical events and a collection of short stories by Stanisław Srokowski titled Hatred.

The movie's central protagonist is a young Polish woman, Zosia Głowacka (Michalina Łabacz in her first onscreen appearance). Volhynia begins in 1939 during the wedding ceremony of Zosia's sister with a local Ukrainian, Vasyl. Zosia is also in love with a young Ukrainian, Petro; but her father marries her off to a wealthy landowner Maciej. The movie then switches to 1941 and finally to 1943, culminating with the infamous Volhynian Bloody Sunday (11 July 1943) and subsequent massacres.


Due to its graphic content, Volhynia gets a hard R-rating. The movie received significant critical acclaim in Poland and Germany, while being banned in Ukraine (the Ukrainian actors who appeared in Volhynia were financially and socially punished). It was also a major commercial hit, with more than 1,400,000 tickets sold during its theatrical run. It was confirmed the movie will receive at least limited theatrical run in the US.


This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ambiguous Ending: It's up to the viewer if Zosia survived the night attack, or even the massacre itself, and if the ending was real or just a dying hallucination
  • An Arm and a Leg: Maciej catches an Ukrainian stealing his chickens and lops off his hand in retribution. He gets his head lopped off in revenge.
  • Anyone Can Die: Of all the main characters, only Zosia and her child are alive at the end of the movie. And even that's not so certain, see Ambiguous Ending.
  • Blatant Lies: When two Polish soldiers invited for negotiation talks meet the Ukrainians, they are dismembered alive. Then, the Poles in the village are told to stay in their homes because they are safe and no harm will be done to them. This was a ruse to avoid anyone getting out when the massacres began.
  • Book-Ends: As part of her wedding, Helena lays her head on the floor and has her elaborate braid ceremonially lopped off by an axe (braids were worn by maidens, while married women had loose hair). When the Polish mob, seeking revenge for the massacres, raid Vasyl's house, the scene is repeated almost verbatim... but this time Helena loses the whole head. Ouch.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Where do we begin?... Dismemberment by horses, eyes gouged out, crucifixion, flaying, burning alive, pregnant woman bayoneted in the belly, and more. Horrifying Truth in Television - it was named a slaughter for a reason.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Maciej gets his head chopped off by an Ukrainian who got his hand lopped off by Maciej for stealing. Later, in the movie, the Polish mob kills Vasyl, Helena and their infant son just because it was a mixed Polish-Ukrainian family. And then, the whole Volhynian Slaughter might be considered an example of this.
  • Downer Ending: Well, a Wojciech Smarzowski movie about the Volhynian Slaughter - what the hell did you expect?... Zosia and her child survive the massacres, but all of Zosia's family are now dead and she's all alone in the Germany-occupied Poland, traumatized by the horror she was put through.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When Zosia is about to be killed by a Ukrainian mob, the German units scares them away. Initially indifferent, when the Germans find the aftermath of the massacre, they start showing some sympathy towards Zosia.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: When Zosia wanders through her village, all she sees are mutilated bodies of its inhabitants. She starts wandering from one village to another, but all she finds are more massacred Poles.
  • Eye Scream: During the climactic massacre one of the Poles gets his eyes gouged out.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Averted. When in combat during the 1939 September Campaign, Maciej has a photo of Zosia with him. He's the only one of his unit to return home. Not for very long.
  • Forced to Watch: Helena is forced to watch as the Poles kill her infant child just because of its mixed heritage.
  • Gorn: Well, there's a reason why it is called a Volhynian Slaughter.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: During the massacre one of the victims is disembowelled alive.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Two Polish soldiers sent on a negotiation mission are tied to horses and ripped apart alive.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Ukrainian mobs are horrifyingly brutal in their indiscriminate killings, but the Poles who start massacring the Ukrainians in revenge are not better one iota. The Polish mob brutally murders Vasyl, Helena and their child just because Vasyl is Ukrainian.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Oh so much. It takes just a small spark to start a horrific cycle of violence.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted horrifically. A pregnant woman is bayoneted in the belly by a Ukrainian, Zosia's stepson is burned alive, and Vasyl and Helena's newborn child is slaughtered by a Polish mob.
  • Kill 'Em All: The massacres of Poles are carried out indiscriminately, regardless of age and gender. So are the Polish reprisals.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The Poles murder Vasyl and Helena for being in a mixed marriage, along with their child.
  • Man on Fire: Actually, Child On Fire.
  • Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: Solid 9, bordering on 10.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: To protect his family and Zosia, Vasyl, who opposes the slaughter of Poles, is forced to kill his brother, who orders him to murder Vasyl's wife and child and Zosia and her child, because they are Polish. The next day, the Polish mob kills Vasyl, Helena and their child.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: The Movie
  • Off with His Head!: Maciej and Helena.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: When the Ukrainians start massacring the Poles on a large scale, the Poles form their own mobs, who are just as ruthless and indiscriminate in their killings.
  • The Quisling: The Ukrainian administrator of the village. He serves Poles, Russians, Germans and finally Ukrainians with the same level of shameless flattery and enthusiasm.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Both Petro and Maciej die halfway through the movie.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The Ukrainian mob who massacres Poles uses pitchforks, axes, scythes, sickles and saws. They also carry torches to burn the villages down.
  • Triang Relations: Type 4. Maciej loves Zosia, but she's in a relationship with Petro. She gets pregnant and Maciej believes it's his child, while the two lovers know it was actually Petro who fathered it.
  • War Is Hell: Ya think?...

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