The NKVD prisoner massacres were a series of mass executions carried out by the Soviet NKVD secret police during World War II against political prisoners across Eastern Europe, primarily Poland and, Ukraine, the Baltic states. Bessarabia and other parts of the Soviet Union from which the Red Army was retreating following the Nazi Germany attack on the Soviet positions in occupied Poland, known as Operation Barbarossa.
Estimates of the death toll vary between locations; nearly 9,000 in the Ukrainian SSR , 20,000–30,000 in eastern Poland, with the total number reaching approximately 100,000 victims of extrajudicial executions in the span of a few weeks.
The launch of Operation Barbarossa surprised the NKVD, whose jails and prisons in territories annexed by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact were crowded with political prisoners. In occupied eastern Poland, the NKVD was given the responsibility of evacuating and liquidating over 140,000 prisoners (NKVD evacuation order No. 00803). In Ukraine and Western Belarus 60,000 people were forced to evacuate on foot. By official Soviet count more than 9,800 were reportedly executed in the prisons, 1,443 were executed in the process of evacuation, 59 were killed for attempting to escape, 23 were killed by German bombs, and 1,057 died from other causes.
Approximately two thirds of the total number of 150,000 prisoners were murdered; most of the rest were transported into the interior of the Soviet Union, but some were abandoned inside the prisons if there was no time to execute them and others managed to escape.
Lwów, the massacres in this city began immediately after German attack, on June 22 and continued until June 28, culminating in the Lviv pogroms. The NKVD executed several thousand inmates in a number of provisional prisons. Among the common methods of extermination were shooting the prisoners in their cells, killing them with grenades thrown into the cells or starving them to death in the cellars. Some were simply bayoneted to death. It is estimated that over 4000 people were murdered that way, while the number of survivors is estimated at approximately 270. A Ukrainian uprising briefly forced the NKVD to retreat, but it soon returned to kill the remaining prisoners in their cells. In the aftermath, medical students described the scene at one of the prisons: “From the courtyard, doors led to a large space, filled from top to bottom with corpses. The bottom ones were still warm. The victims were between 15 and 60 years old, but most were 20-35 years old. They laid in various poses, with open eyes and masks of terror on their faces. Among them were many women. On the left wall, three men were crucified, barely covered by clothing from their shoulders, with severed male organs. Underneath them on the floor in half-sitting, leaning positions – two nuns with those organs in their mouths. The victims of the NKVD’s sadism were killed with a shot in the mouth or the back of the head. But most were stabbed in the stomach with a bayonet. Some were naked or almost naked, others in decent street clothes. One man was in a tie, mostly likely just arrested.