Kyiv resident Olga V., a lawyer and journalist, moved with her husband to New Zealand just before the war and immediately became a prominent figure in the Ukrainian diaspora. When Russia began shelling Kyiv, Olga spent days clutching her smartphone, convincing her mother, Lyudmila, and her mother-in-law, Natalia to leave Ukraine. Eventually, she succeeded and Olga’s mother took her favorite dog with her – a toy terrier called Patrick.
Olga had also been busy posting requests for help on the internet, mostly addressing Poles, because Ukrainian refugees were being warmly welcomed there.
In the end, it was a Polish couple living in the United States who offered to help. As soon as they heard of the two ladies’ plight, these total strangers, Michal and Gosia, bought plane tickets, flew to Poland to meet Lyudmila and Natalya, and took them and the toy terrier to their house, which was standing empty in Krakow.
The plan was for the two Ukrainian refugees to stay in Poland while they applied for a New Zealand visa. But that took much longer than anyone expected.
When Michal and Gosia had to return to the US, they paid for their Ukrainian guests to stay in a hotel for a month and then Pavel, another Polish stranger, offered to house the two ladies in his village home free of charge. He looked after them for six months until, eventually, the New Zealand visa arrived and Lyudmila and Natalya flew to be with Olga.
Now Pavel has a Ukrainian toy terrier named Patrick living in his yard because the dog was not permitted to enter New Zealand. But at least the pet doesn’t live as far from his native Ukraine as his owner.
There must be thousands of stories like this – examples of hard work, determination, and solidarity. Polish publishers collected and sent hundreds of thousands of euros to their colleagues in Ukraine. At their own expense, they printed children’s books in Ukrainian and distributed them to young refugees free of charge.
All over Poland, people collected clothes, food, toys, and furniture for Ukrainians driven out of their homes by the war. Polish volunteers regularly deliver humanitarian and military aid to Ukrainian cities and villages. Millions of Ukrainians will remember with gratitude everything that the Poles have done for us during this Russian aggression.
The same can be said about the Polish state, which organized hubs on its territory for military assistance to the Ukrainian army. Poland also gave Ukraine large amounts of ammunition and weapons. The country opened its borders for Ukrainian exports and the transit of grain and other goods.
Polish politicians and members of the government regularly risk missile attacks to visit Kyiv and express their support for the government of Ukraine and its president. However, several grain scandals in recent months have marred bilateral relations.
Back in March of this year, Polish farmers blocked roads to protest against the import of Ukrainian grain into Poland. Officially, grain was imported only for transit to Polish seaports on the Baltic Sea because Russia had made the use of the Black Sea ports impossible. However, when the transit of Ukrainian grain began, grain prices for Polish farmers started to fluctuate and fall, which indicated that some of the Ukrainian grain was finding its way into the domestic Polish market.
In April 2023, the Polish government announced a new mechanism for the transit of Ukrainian grain that would prevent these “leakages” and promised their farmers that Polish grain silos would be emptied of Ukrainian grain before the start of the new harvest. However, the Minister of Agriculture Henryk Kowalczyk later resigned, saying that he could not cope with the “grain” crisis.
Poland is now blocking the transit and export of Ukrainian grain and tensions over this show no signs of cooling. The upcoming parliamentary elections in Poland on Oct. 15, are key to this. Farmers’ votes can affect the outcome of the elections.
In August, when Zelensky rather bluntly accused the Polish government of “preparing the stage for a Moscow actor,” Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki called on Zelensky to “never offend the Poles again!” and stated that Poland could no longer provide Ukraine with any weapons since it must arm itself.
Morawiecki admitted that arguments between Warsaw and Kyiv make Russia very happy and the Polish and Ukrainian governments are trying to put out the fire of the “grain” scandal. However, this is not the only issue in Polish-Ukrainian relations. There remains a lack of historical reconciliation between the two countries regarding the issues of the Volhynia Massacre and other dramatic and tragic episodes in Polish and Ukrainian history.
From the spring of 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army actively exterminated ethnic Poles living in Volhynia – an area where Polish villages were adjacent to Ukrainian villages. The Polish Home Army destroyed Ukrainian villages and their inhabitants. Everyone was killed: old people, women, and children. Village residents were sometimes herded into houses and churches and burned alive. Neither Poland nor Ukraine wants to admit guilt in these massacres.
It should be said that the history of Polish-Ukrainian relations was not always written in blood. There are many positive episodes that politicians seem slow to remember. One of the first Ukrainian writers and thinkers, Meletiy Smotrytsky (1577-1633), wrote his works exclusively in Polish. Vyacheslav Lypynski (1882-1931), a Ukrainian historian and political figure of Polish origin, wrote in Ukrainian and the classic Ukrainian author, Ivan Franko (1856-1916), wrote in Ukrainian, Polish, and German.
Today, as before the war, the main foreign market for Ukrainian literature is the Polish market, where books by Ukrainian authors translated into Polish sell better than in Ukraine. This can be explained partly by the shortcomings in the Ukrainian book market, but also by the enormous interest in Ukraine that exists in Poland. Interest in Polish literature in Ukraine is not as high or as stable, but this does not upset the Poles. The vast majority of them have a very positive attitude towards Ukrainians. This has been proved by the Polish people time and time again since the beginning of the war and the Ukrainian toy terrier, running about in a Polish yard, would no doubt testify to it as well, if only he could talk.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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