Illustration by Ahmed Bilal.

Україна: Reflecting As A Citizen of A Neighboring Country

I am not from Ukraine. I come from Poland. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Polish hearts and actions have been with those fleeing and fighting.

Mar 7, 2022

Feb 23
I'm sitting in class and I can't believe it. The situation in Ukraine is so tense that it begs for a word of commentary. But the professor doesn't mention it. Afterwards, I spend over an hour flipping through Polish and English articles about Ukraine. I try to understand the bigger picture and recall old lectures from civics class about the events of the revolution in 2004 and the annexing of Crimea in 2014. My social media is flooded with information about the worsening situation. I've read so many "What's happening in Ukraine" posts that I already recognize the source of the headlines without needing to click any of the linked pages.
Feb 24
In the morning, I called Mom full of excitement to tell her about my dinner with Professor John Sexton. We talked for so long that I then had to run to make it to class. We didn't know yet. I hadn’t opened any media since I woke up, but in the span of a few hours, everyone knew.
Dad relays the news to mom. She cries. I can imagine that for her, as a government official, this carries more weight. I call them both and we talk for hours discussing politics, history and specific articles, trying to deal with overwhelming emotions, fear and compassion.
I was raised on war reportages. Given my country’s history, it is inevitable. Every other holiday is dedicated to the "memory of the fallen"; monuments and commemorative plaques are an integral part of the landscape. In schools, every year, a theme that runs through a large portion of the assigned readings is suffering and powerlessness in the face of armed conflict. The war motif is present in culture, poetry, every history lesson and trips anywhere in Poland. How much was the area affected by the war? How many people have died in the vicinity?
And then it happens — the course of events I studied in history lessons, endless books and their screen adaptations, occurs right next door. In a neighboring country. I read about people packing only what they need most and fleeing, while I am sitting safely in the UAE. And I wonder why this had to happen. It seems unimaginable.
Feb 25
I wake up. Panic rises in my chest. My pulse quickens. My eyes dry, itching from the contact lenses. With a sullen face, I try to work, but always end up staring dully at the computer screen or the wall next to me. Unanswered messages pile up, as do unchecked items on my task list. My thoughts wander to the terrified people who are so close to where my family lives. They wander to the emotionally exhausted Ukrainians on campus. To the heartbreaking media headlines. Compared to this, nothing else seems to matter right now. I have no right to feel fear or anger or helplessness, but they pile up inside me, occasionally replaced only by emptiness and exhaustion. I don't even have the strength to read another headline, let alone voice my opinion on it. I don’t have the energy to write an article to show the course of Ukrainian history they taught me in school; the Orange Revolution, Euromaidan, the annexation of Crimea, the Minsk agreements. I don't have the strength to read the statements of politicians about what hasn't been done but should have been. This is probably just a drop in the ocean of what they must feel and experience. But I wanted to tell you that inside me everything has stopped. I don't understand how the world can go on.
March 5
Every call with anyone from back home is about Ukraine. I know that my family has pulled out mattresses, and that collections of donations are happening in every street in Warsaw, inside every school, every business and NGO. The announcement that 50 people needed help with donation collections at the University of Warsaw, gathered 200 eager students in the first two hours. Some hotels are giving rooms for free to refugees. Polish people are driving to the border, opening their homes to those escaping the war. Ukrainian flags are flying in the wind on University gates and even public transportation. My social media is a mix of yellow-blue. It would never be enough help and support for the hundreds of thousands fleeing, forced to leave previous lives behind them, but I pray for you. And all people I know, stand with you.
Image 1
Source: Twitter
Monika Pawlowska is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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