Across the border in Poland: Prayers for Ukraine

Russia At War

(NewsNation Now) — Marcin’s mother’s house is my ideal vision of a perfect Polish home. Like many Polish homes, it has a garden with raspberry and blueberry bushes that grow wild, undisciplined and bunched against one another.

When I was about 12, Marcin and I would push through those plants, pluck fresh fruit from the vines and eat them on the spot. Perfect fruit in a perfect home in the perfect village of Ksiaznice, about 100 miles from the Ukrainian border.

When I was 2, my family won an American citizenship lottery and we settled in Chicago. Marcin, my grandmothers and most of my family remain in Poland. We’d visit regularly. I became a journalist in America. Marcin Rzegocki, meanwhile, became a university professor in Poland and has spent time volunteering in Ukraine.

What will become of Marcin, that garden and the rest of Poland in the coming months? An estimated 100,000 Ukrainians are fleeing their homes and 1 million refugees may wind up in Poland. Some 9,000 American troops are there. Many Ukrainians warn that Russian President Vladmir Putin will not stop at dominating their country and will pursue other former Soviet countries and satellites.

I am anxious about the future of Poland. I spoke to Marcin on Thursday from his home of Tarnow to hear whether my concerns were warranted and what he thought about the Russian crisis. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

“As an ally with Ukraine, some of us are thinking … the conflict could potentially escalate to this part of Europe, too.

My cousin Marcin and me when he visited Chicago in June 2014.

“Many people are scared or fearful right now. We can see queues at gas stations and I’ve heard that there’s a shortage in gasoline here in the area, but most probably also in other parts of Poland.

“For two years now, we are living in a constant crisis (due to the pandemic) and every day we are experiencing things that we would never imagine before. So I think that many of us are ready to … imagine that bad things can happen, things that we would never have expected before.

“We do expect people (to come to) everywhere in Poland. I have spoken today with some parish priests around here in Tarnow and I know that the parishes are getting ready to have some refugees.”

Helping Ukrainian refugees is a “moral duty.”

“We all know somebody or many people from that country and we understand, we hear how terrible the situation is.

“We are praying for you (the Ukrainian people). We are hoping that this conflict is going to end as soon as possible and we are going to help you.

“It is a beautiful country, and it is related to Poland for historical reasons. So many, many Polish people go to Ukraine for some kind of sentimental travels. Also, many of us do go there for some voluntary work, especially for some Christian missions in Ukraine.”

“I observed that most of the community of Polish people here are thinking the same, are supporting the independence of Ukraine, especially we are supporting the peaceful existence of independent nations.”

“European history is a complex phenomenon. Territories here in Europe went from hand to hand. And for a period of time, also part of Poland was actually part of Russia. But this does not mean that those countries that exist right now, which are internationally recognized by the international community, do not have the right to exist.

“So far, most of my friends (in Ukraine) are secure. Especially because most of my friends live in a western part of the of the country, which is less affected, but what they say is that they actually fear about their lives and the lives of their relatives and family.

“I’ve heard about people trying to escape from Ukraine. I’ve heard about families that were trying to join their relatives in Poland.

“For most of my compatriots, the presence of NATO army here in Poland is a guarantee of more peace and more protection.

“It is hard to find a solution that will satisfy both sides, probably, of the conflict. But we all think that the sooner it stops, the less victims that it is going to produce and that it is probably going to be easier to withdraw from this situation.”

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