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The Lutowiska municipality in Bieszczady is the land of the Bieszczady pastures, clean mountain streams and forests, inhabited by bears, wolves and bison. It is the heart of one of the last true wilderness of Europe – the Polish “Wild East”.

The Lutowiska municipality is the southernmost and one of the largest in terms of its area (476 km2) in Poland. Inhabited by less than 2200 people it is one of the least populated regions of the country.

It is the only Polish municipality that shares its boarders with both the Slovak Republic and Ukraine. It is the most attractive in Bieszczady mountains and the most affected during the displacement of the local population (1939-1947), and the struggles with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Over 80% of its area is plastered with forest, mainly Carpathian beech with addition of fir, sycamore and spruce.

The area is fully covered by different forms of environmental legal protection. There are Easter Beskid Protected Landscape Area, San Valley Landscape National Park, Bieszczady National Park and numerous nature reserves, such as “Krywe”, guarding from extinction the last population of the Aesculapius serpent in Poland.

The protected areas located in Lutowiska municipality have gained an international status: Bieszczady National Park and San Valley Landscape National Park are the foundations of the first European trilateral (Polish-Slovak-Ukrainian) UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve “Eastern Carpathians”, with a total area of 2132 km. Bieszczady National Park as the second national park in Poland was awarded the “European Dilpoma” in 1999 by the European Council for the most precious and best managed protected zone.

Permanent settlement of the Ruthenian and Wallachian population in what is now the Lutowiska municipality began in the 15th century; however, most of the villages were founded in the 16th century. The foreign armies’ invasions, famine and epidemics in the 17th century resulted in a partial depopulation of the area. The 18th century was the period of re-populating of the abandoned villages, political stability, economic recovery and sustained development of the national and religious consciousness amongst the population, consisting of the Polish nobility, the Greek Catholic Ruthenians and Jews.

After the abolition of serfdom in 1848 came the fragmentation of the land and the collapse of the estates without the free labour. The properties were auctioned and taken over by the wood merchants, who built the sawmills and narrow-gauge railway lines.

In 1915, during heavy fights in the Carpathians, many villages were destroyed, and the local residents were plagued with epidemics and famine. In the 1920s the country’s reconstruction needs led to prosperity in the timber industry, so the new sawmills and factories were being founded, and oil exploration was carried out.

The economic crisis in the 1930s led to the liquidation of many factories and the narrow-gauge railways. But the end of the decade brought another economic recovery, and the growth of tourism. Under the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement in 1939 the San river became a border that separated and divided the present-day municipality into areas occupied by German and Soviet armies. On the Soviet side 13 villages that existed in the so-called “border zone” were demolished and the people were displaced from their homes. Local intelligence class, government officials, priests and the forest service members were expelled to Siberia. On the left bank of the river San German soldiers began the repressions against the Jews, resulting in the extermination of Jewish people after the entire area was merged with the General Province in June 1941. At the same time, German forces fuelled the Polish-Ukrainian conflict. After concentration of the forces of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the terror against the Polish population intensified and continued during the invasion of the Soviet troops in September 1944; during the fighting many villages were torn to pieces.

The new border along the San river between Poland and the Soviet Union divided the area of the present-day Lutowiska municipality once again. In the Soviet zone the forced collectivization of the villages and the introduction of the Orthodox church began; those who opposed were deported to Siberia. The name Lutowiska was changed to Szewczenkowo.

On the Polish side the mountain regions up to the village Cisna were controlled by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. As early as 1944 under the “repatriation” began the deportation of the Ukrainian people to the Soviet Union (from 1946 it became compulsory). As part of the “Vistula” operation in 1947 the next phase of deportation took place; this led to the complete abandonment of the region. All buildings were destroyed and the vast areas of old villages were reclaimed by nature. After so-called “borders equalizing” in 1951, caused by the discovery of the coal deposits in the sokalski district, Lutowiska were returned to Poland and the previous residents from Sokalszczyzna came back. Repopulation began in Bieszczady, but despite this, from 28 villages existing before the war, only 17 is now inhabited, and the population decreased tenfold (from 21398 persons in 1935 to 2145 in 1994). Establishing large animal farms during the years of communism, combined with the so-called “remediation” of the valleys leading to changes in water, soil erosion and destruction of plants, imposed a serious threat to the environment. It contributed to the destruction of both monuments of nature and history.

In order to protect the cultural heritage of the ancient inhabitants of the San Valley, the Local Council of Lutowiska, using the powers assigned to the local governments under the Nature Conservation Act in 2000, created seven nature and landscapes zones on the territories of the former villages. The project was completed thanks to the funds granted  by the Foundation of Eastern Carpathian Biodiversity Conservation established in Switzerland to promote joint activities in the International Biosphere Reserve. The project was awarded the title by the Foundation for the Development of the Carpathian Euroregion of the best from the Polish part of the Euroregion within the framework of the Local Government Innovative Practices.

For many centuries the Bieszczady mountains were inhabited by various different nations, amongst which the most significant are the Rusyns, Jews and Poles. The dramatic events of the 20th century – World War II and later deportations, concluded with the “Vistula” operation, irrevocably changed this part of the country. The expulsion of the indigenous people, which went hand in hand with the elimination of culture, so carefully built over many generations, has forced Bieszczady to create their own cultural identity all over again throughout the second half of the 20th century until now. Fortunately, somehow Bieszczady managed to retain a lot of material and intangible heritage of our ancestors, on which new ethos can be built. The uniqueness and colour of what remains make us remember this heritage, nurture it and expose it to the world.


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