Ground Report | Ukrainian refugees in Poland willing to fight, conflicting loyalties

Author: Yuvi February 27, 2022

Ground Report | Ukrainian refugees in Poland willing to fight, conflicting loyalties

Ukrainian refugees in Poland say wounded Russian soldiers are being treated in local hospitals and their doctors say they were taken by surprise when asked to cross the border.

Russian is going to become an even more familiar language on the streets of Polish cities in the coming months. Most Ukrainians can speak full Russian in addition to their mother tongue; In fact, many people speak it as their first language. With the start of the war with Russia, the United Nations expects more than a million Ukrainians to visit Poland, a country that already hosts two million Ukrainians as a legacy of the previous war. “We want to thank the Polish people and the government for their generosity, they have welcomed us,” says Alex, a young man who works in the southern Polish city of Bielsko-Biaa, a four-hour drive from Ukraine. . Limit. Inter-city trains are providing free transport for refugees and many Polish citizens have volunteered their time and resources and are sharing their homes during this difficult time.

Going to the Polish border in Ukraine carries obvious risks of being caught in crossfire or by roads damaged by shelling. Able men between the ages of 18-60 are also banned from leaving the country, leaving only women and children free to cross. However, many women do not drive and some have crossed the long border on foot, and it is still cold.

Many Ukrainians already have families in Poland. Twenty-five-year-old Alex has a brother who works in Tychi, a town a few hours’ drive north of Biasco-Biaa. The rest of his family lives in Kherson, a town near the Black Sea in the south of Ukraine “My family is fine, but has not slept well, with the sound of shells exploding at night. The city is still in Ukraine’s hands, they say, but there is a night curfew, and it is better to stay indoors to avoid being mistaken for Russians or sympathizers. He shares news from his hometown that wounded young Russian soldiers are being treated in hospitals in Ukraine. He apparently admitted to his doctors that he had been on regular field training near the borders before the invasion and was surprised when he was asked to cross the border.

Alex yearned for the first pre-war time in 2014 when he worked in the tourism sector in Crimea. “Things have gotten very bad,” he says. Inflation, lack of jobs and continued insecurity have driven people to leave the country, mainly Poland, made attractive by proximity, language equality, general acceptance and better job prospects. “I have friends in Donetsk and Lugansk. It is calm there with Russian control but other cities on the front line are suffering now,” he says. He has no intention of going back but he constantly worries about his family. “I hope we can talk about the travel business instead of meeting up next time,” he says as he says goodbye.

Eighteen-year-old Igor says that he is depressed. Before the first war he lived with his family near Kiev. His brother, who is in the army, is injured in the war and has a mental illness. Igor wants to go back to defend his country. Back home, he says, a war has broken out in his neighborhood and youths and volunteers are putting up a strong resistance. They claim that some have commanded the tanks and casualties of the Russians and are desperate for reinforcements and provisions. His mother, who also lives in Poland, is deeply concerned for her two sons. He is an economic migrant as a result of the 2014 war. “The current president is popular,” he says. “They have built roads and infrastructure and undermined the power of the oligarchs.” They don’t bother when I mention their proximity to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. There is no doubt in his mind about who is to be blamed for this situation.

Opposition to the Loyalty of the Peoples of the East

Teenager Natalia hails from the southeast of Ukraine, close to the Donbass with its strong Russian influence. She can’t bring herself to blame the Russians. She counts them among her friends with whom she still keeps in touch. “They are not to blame,” she says, revealing the conflicting loyalties of the peoples of eastern Ukraine as a result of a culturally and socially intertwined past. “I can’t choose, I just want peace,” she says. When asked who is responsible for the war, she cites conspiracy theories and past complaints. She is not the only one to get the answer.

Historical grievances have left deep wounds and the Russian leader’s statements have no credibility in most neighboring pre-Warsaw Pact countries, such as Poland. “Don’t you know he’s a liar? You can’t believe a word they say. They only want to subjugate their neighbors and control them during communist times,” says Anna, a 40-year-old Polish woman who essentially misses learning Russian in school. “We have the right to join the European Union or come closer to the West and not be under constant threat of aggression or bullying,” she adds.

However, there are less discussed aspects such as the presence of extreme right-wing elements in the Ukrainian military and the shelling of the rebel-held Donbass region. Despite the unease regarding the invasion, there is some support for the Russian presence in the Eastern Provinces. Ekaterina and her boyfriend, who are from Kharkiv, north of the Donbass in eastern Poland, say, “The Russians are not targeting civilians, but transport, military and infrastructure links and we have learned to live with the firepower. “

At the moment, the Ukrainian diaspora in Poland is filled with anxiety over what is happening in their homeland, and full of worry about how to help newcomers. There have been meetings in city squares, rallies for peace and condemnation of the attack. Many are asking why Ukraine is facing the Russians alone, and NATO is not intervening. Others see the possibilities of apocalypse far beyond Ukraine’s geography. “Perhaps excluding them from the SWIFT transaction will dissuade Putin and his henchmen,” Igor said, although he seemed unconvinced. “We have to do something,” is the common refrain.

27 February, 2022, 2:47 pm

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