Guest Editorial: Why I support Ukraine

 


My hometown in Poland, Chelm, is 20 miles away from the border with Ukraine.

My mother called me last Saturday.

She told me that the refugees are coming already to my hometown, most of them are women with kids. It looks like most of them are just passing by to get far away from the war, but some of them are deciding to stay and wait for friends or family that are still waiting in the Ukrainian traffic.

So far, since the invasion began a few days ago, Poland has taken in over 500,000 refugees from Ukraine.

My hometown’s population is around 65,000, we are a busy town but we are not a tourist city. We don’t have a lot of hotels and BnB, and the issues are adding up: not enough places to shelter people, the empty shelves at the stores, long lines at the gas stations to get fuel.

The people of my town and all over the country are working together to gather essential supplies for everyone fleeing from Ukraine.

My mother supports every single way to help the refugees, but at the same time she has been worried, not just about the war next door but about what is going to happen in a week, a month, a year. This is just a beginning…

I was born in 1984. I don’t remember communism times in Poland just the stories from my parents and grandparents.

I was told that after World War II Polish people were controlled by the Soviet government. I was told that people were not happy about being watched all the time, being influenced by a country that they didn’t want to be part of. We struggled. And fought for years for democracy.

We had our own problems, we were divided and lost and the road to freedom was not easy.

I do remember one thing about living in communist country: long lines at the store. I remember spending hours with my mom, just waiting. I was told that everyone had jobs and money during that time but the shelves at the stores were empty. I guess all the goods were transported back to the Soviet Union. I still remember standing in the store called Pewex, which was a chain of shops in Poland that accepted payment only in United States dollars and looking at a Barbie doll that I could not have. Pewex was a symbol of luxury and privilege.

In 1989, finally the situation changed. We got rid of the Soviet Union government and the Militsiya, the occupying Soviet police force.

I have a special memory of one event from that time. My grandfather used to babysit me a lot since my mother was a single parent. I was at school, and I was maybe 6 years old. He came to pick me up, but it was a little too early. We were not done with the class.

He said to me, “Today is a very important day for you and our future, come with me…”

And I went with him…to vote!

I still remember that day, myself with him standing in a long line at the voting polls. We were surrounded by a huge crowd. Being a 6-year-old kid, I knew that something important was happening.

Everyone was so excited. I stood in the voting booth with my grandpa. He put the pencil in my hand and gave me the honor to choose who we would vote for. It was the first vote in my life, but it was also the first time in my grandpa’s life that he was able to vote in a free and independent Poland. I voted with 75% of the Polish population for the same guy. Lech Walesa! He was our first president democratically chosen by Polish people—not anyone else!

That memory was the beginning of my future in an independent country. Don’t get me wrong, it was not easy. We were so broken, lost, but we united and found ways to deal with our problems. We worked hard, we made a lot of mistakes but the beautiful thing about it is that they are our failures and victories—not anyone else’s!

I want the same for Ukrainian people. I want their kids to experience the same thing I did when I was 6 years old. I wish for Ukraine to be independent, run by Ukrainian people. I want them to make mistakes, learn from them, and have a choice.

I speak for myself, of course. I can’t speak for every single Polish person, but I do believe that most of my friends and family feel exactly the same.

I have been living in Petersburg for over 12 years, but I don’t think I am disconnected from the European reality. I get updates every single day about the situation on the Polish/Ukrainian border and I am very proud of my country and how supportive they are.

Growing up in the east of Poland meant that Ukrainians were part of my life. As a teenager this is where we used to buy our cheap alcohol or cigarettes; it was just part of an ordinary day to find a Ukrainian person in the market square to get some goodies.

I feel that all Slavic countries are like a big family full of brothers and sisters: we fight, we tease, we make fun of each other, our history is brutal and bloody, but, in the end, we always make up and unite with each other.

At the same time, there has always been a stigma in Polish culture about “Mother Russia,” and I don’t blame people who don’t trust and feel this way. But we need to remember that it is the government who controls everything, the ordinary people have nothing to do with that. The politics are not just black and white. There is more to the picture and I fear not just for Ukrainian people but Russians as well, I worry about the whole world.

The people of Russia have been suffering for years and I feel sorry that they live in a country that got stuck in the past. I also believe that this war is Putin’s war, not Russia’s people’s war.

 

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