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Plans to Preserve Historic Sites of Polish Evacuees in Mukono Hit a Snag

After the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, many Poles ended up in forced labour camps deep in Siberia. Others who managed to escape found new homes in East Africa. In Uganda, between 1942 and 1951, over 7, 000poles were settled at Koja in Mpunge and Nyabyeya in Masindi district.
Wakiku showing the mass grave where polish remains are buried.

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A plan by community members of Mpunge Sub County in Mukono district to preserve some of the historic sites by Polish evacuees in their area has hit a snag.

More than  7,000 Poles were settled at Koja, Mpunge a peninsula of Lake Victoria in the present-day Mukono district between 1942 and 1951 in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. The group comprised women and children, who were being persecuted by the Soviets and the Nazi Germany sanctuary after getting amnesty from forced labour camps deep in Siberia.

Available documentation indicates that at its peak, the refugee site in Koja accommodated around 3,000 Polish refugees at a camp that had a scenic view covering an area measuring 700 acres overlooking Lake Victoria. They lived in communes and camps until they found permanent homes in the UK, Canada and Australia while a few settled in South Africa.

During their stay in Uganda, many of the Poles were killed by Malaria and dysentery and were buried at various graveyards in Mukono, Masindi, Bombo and Entebbe, according to records at the Uganda National Archives. With the support of the Polish Embassy in Kenya, a symbolic graveyard for 92 Poles recorded to have died in the area was established and painted with the national colours of Poland under the guidance of Fr. John Masinak, then a missionary priest at Kamuli Don Bosco Technical School.

The graves with inscriptions;  ‘Zmarli Polacy w drodze do Ojczyzny...’ meaning that the ‘Poles died on the way to their homeland,' were maintained for posterity even when the land that they occupied reverted to the colonial governments for local people’s settlements or administrative centres. The land in Mpunge was turned into a farm by then a British national only identified as Gordon and it is currently owned by the family of the late Edward Mugalu.

Over the last five years, Ugandans in the communities that hosted the Poles have organised an annual celebration in remembrance of the polish evacuees who settled in the area as well as praying for those who died during the time. It is during these celebrations that they resolved to preserve the remaining sites and build a museum describing the life of the evacuees back then in the area.

However, the plans have been frustrated after the current landlord restricted access to the sites. There is scanty information about the reasons that forced the family to block access to the sites which also include a bakery house, a water reservoir surrounded by bushes and a canarium tree (omuwafu) located close to what used to be the main roundabout of the camp.

Edward Wakiku, the community committee team leader responsible for the sites says that the Poles had been buried in different graves but later excavated when Gordon was still the owner of the place. The remains were then collected and buried in the current mass grave.

//Cue in; “The relatives used...

Cue out: …few years”//

Juliet Nambuubi, a resident of Koja appeals to the farm owner to consider establishing a clear working environment with the Polish Embassy to promote the remaining sites as tourist centres.

She notes that before the COVID-19 outbreak, locals could sell various products including crafts, fruits and vegetables to evacuees and their families whenever they returned to the area to mark the annual celebrations and to several Ugandans visiting the area for the first time.

Last year in June, the Polish Ambassador Jacek Banzansiki who sits in Nairobi accredited to Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia and Uganda noted that they wish to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the arrival of Siberians in Uganda. The celebrations would take place at Koja in Mpunge Sub County. However, Wakiku says the Embassy halted it until further communication.

Our efforts to talk to the current farm owner, George Mugalu remain fruitless. However, the Honorary Consul of Poland in Uganda Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu says will come out with an official communication on the matter.