Poland has accused Belarus of cultural vandalism after a century-old fresco showing a historic Polish military rout of the Soviet Red Army was painted over.
The painting – ‘Miracle on the Vistula’ – shows the Polish army driving out invading Bolshevik forces in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw.
It was a key victory in frustrating the Red Army’s ambition to take over the newly independent state in the aftermath of World War I.
The artwork has been on display in a church in the village of Soly in the Grodno region of western Belarus bordering Poland for more than a century.
It was created when the region was part of Poland.
Now photographs have emerged of Belarusian workers apparently painting over the entire fresco.
Three pictures show workers putting up scaffolding and then covering the entire artwork in paint.
Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lukasz Jasina said on Twitter on 28th February: “We condemn the destruction of Polish cultural heritage in Belarus by the Lukashenko regime.
“This heritage is an integral part of the history of Belarus. Its destruction is unworthy and against the rules of the civilised world.”
Belarus is one of modern-day Russia’s few allies in its invasion of Ukraine, with Poland – as a NATO member – on the other side.
The fresco had been painted over at least once before, when Belarus was within the borders of the Soviet Union.
But after the collapse of the Soviet system, the local Catholic community ensured that the painting was restored.
Polish media quotes Belarusian state television as claiming that the fresco “calls to incite national and religious hatred”.
One state broadcaster said it “depicted the murder of Soviet soldiers.”
A local priest tried to convince the authorities not to paint over the artwork, saying it is sacred, but his pleas went unheeded, according to Polish media.
The Battle of Warsaw was fought from 12th August to 25th August 1920.
The Red Army was approaching the Polish capital when on 16th August, Polish forces counterattacked and disrupted the enemy’s offensive, forcing the Russian forces to retreat.
It is estimated that the Soviet forces lost 10,000 men in the battle, with 30,000 men wounded and a further 66,000 taken prisoner, while Poland lost 4,500 men and suffered 22,000 wounded.
The rout crippled the Red Army, with the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin calling it “an enormous defeat”.
Tensions between Poland and Belarus, which were already fraught over Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, have flared in recent weeks.
Poland has reportedly closed a key border crossing with Belarus, prompting anger from the Belarusian authorities.
Poland, meanwhile, is outraged after ethnic Polish journalist Andrzey Poczubut, a critic of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, was jailed for eight years.