The Polish War Cemetery is one part of the Katyn museum complex which also has Russian facilities and sites: a cemetery of Soviet victims of repressions; a museum pavilion dedicated to both Polish and Soviet victims of repressions; a museum opened in 2018, with an exhibition entitled Russia and Poland. The 20th century. Pages of history; and a monument named Execution in honour of the murdered victims by the wall of remembrance.

The entire complex including the Polish War Cemetery is the responsibility of the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia in Moscow, supervised by the Russian Ministry of Culture.

Construction of the museum complex began following a 1996 decree issued by the Government of the Russian Federation: On the creation of memorial sites at the burial sites of Soviet and Polish citizens who fell victim to totalitarian repressions in Katyn and Mednoe.

It was opened and consecrated on 28 July 2000 as part of the 60th anniversary commemorations of the Katyn Massacre. The design and construction of the Polish War Cemetery were coordinated by the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites, which also led on other memorial sites in Kharkiv, Mednoe and Bykovnia.

The project submitted by the team led by sculptors Zdzislaw Pidek and Andrzej Solyga and architects Wieslaw and Jacek Synakiewicz was selected. Construction of the cemetery was financed with funds donated by the Polish government, the Katyn Families, the Polish Katyn Foundation and other donors.

The Russian cemetery was opened in 2000 with the Polish cemetery. It is the burial site of at least 8,000 victims of repressions: inhabitants of the Smolensk region including hundreds of Poles, victims of the NKVD’s ‘Polish operation’ in 1937/38.

For years the Polish War Cemetery was the only completed section of the memorial complex. By contrast the Russian section of the cemetery was acknowledged only by a ten-metre high Orthodox cross behind the red gate (where Polish delegations lay flowers every year) and small wooden crosses placed on the ground by families of the victims. Paths into the forest cut across the mass graves that remained unmarked.

On 20 April 2018 the new buildings were opened in the presence of high-ranking officials from Moscow and the region led by Valentina Matviyenko (Chairwoman of the Federation Council). The ceremony was attended by Poland’s Ambassador to Russia, Wlodzimierz Marciniak.

Based on: Katyn. In the Footsteps of the Crime. Kozelsk — Smolensk — Gnezdovo — Katyn Forest, J. Rogoża, M. Wyrwa, Centrum Polsko-Rosyjskiego Dialogu i Porozumienia, Warszawa 2019.