When I left my job three months ago, I wanted to create a beautiful world around me so that my daughter could grow up in one. Everyone seemed tired and burned out after two years of pandemic, stuck in a gloomy rut, and desperate for some positive visions of the future. I was hoping that with more time on my hands I’d create more of such bright, detailed and vivid visions.
Now I’m desperate for such positive visions myself
As I am writing this, over two million Ukrainian people came to Poland fleeing from war, and queues at the border are only getting longer. Most of them don’t have any friends or relatives here, don’t know the language, and have no plan for what’s supposed to happen next. Many have experienced horrors beyond comprehension. Almost all of them come with small kids or elderly parents that need to be taken care of.
Polish response to this has been overwhelmingly heartwarming so far. Everyone I know is helping in this or another way. Many people are rearranging their apartments and squeezing kids together so that they invite a Ukrainian family to one of their bedrooms. Many others drive to Ukraine in trucks full of supplies, volunteer at train stations and local shelter facilities, or organise childcare, legal help, translations or jobs for those who already arrived. Nearly everyone donates stuff and money.
Never before I felt this proud to be Polish
What people are doing here is simply incredible. It was challenging enough to live with my husband’s mom for 3 months even though I knew her well and love her dearly, how much more challenging it must be to invite a complete stranger or a few, who can’t speak your language, might be heavily traumatised, and will be dependent on you for an unknown amount of time? At yet so many people are choosing this, just because this is the right thing to do, just because this is how they’d like to be treated if or when it will be our turn to flee from the war sometime.
I’m in awe seeing people working day and night to help, but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale of it all. For every family you invite under your roof, there are still thousands of others still looking for shelter. For every stroller, blanket or sleeping bag you give away, there will be thousands more needed. It’s only been three weeks and my city’s population already grew by 20%, what if the war continues for another three months? Or years? Who will take care of all these people? Where will they live, work, or go to school? Right now everyone is high on adrenaline and going above and beyond, but it’s not possible to maintain this level of engagement in the long term.
Some people are simply heroes – others need to learn how to be one
When I first heard about the war, I was paralysed for a week before I found the willpower to host a mom with kids in grandpa’s old apartment. Some of my friends were already living with Ukrainian families by then, or volunteering at the border, or doing ten million other things. At first I felt ashamed that it took me so long, but then I heard many people I admire and respect mention getting stuck in similar paralysis.
Even though we’re safe here for now, this news triggered all of our worst collective nightmares and horrors from the past. My city has seen more civilian deaths in World War 2 than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and there are signs of it everywhere I look if I pay attention. I can’t not pay attention now that war is just behind the corner.
Everyone responds to these nightmares differently. For some, being of service is itself the best antidote, others like me need a minimum viable level of having their shit together before they can be of any help. The last thing someone in crisis needs is a volunteer who’s more afraid, panicked or paralysed than them.
And even now that I do have my shit more or less together, I’m constantly reminded about my limitations. Given the needs are virtually infinite, how much am I willing to give? How much of my and my family’s comfort am I willing to sacrifice for people who have it so much worse than we do? So far I’ve chosen ways to help that cause minimal disruption to my family life, and I don’t feel quite ready to disrupt it much further for now. Some of my friends sacrificed so much more, and they keep reminding me how much more I could be doing.
We used to know war only from our grandparents’ stories
Yes, in theory I heard that people were still fighting in the Middle East, but did I know it really? For my whole life, war was something that happened a long time ago, or in a galaxy far, far away. Now that it’s one (or two?) of our neighbours invading another, suddenly the possibility of someone bombing my own neighbourhood, burning down my house and killing my loved ones becomes acutely real. It happened so many times in the past, and yet we got to believe that it wouldn’t happen again. For children born at the end of the history, this is a shocking wakeup call.
When I try to come up with some positive visions of the future now, it almost feels like insincere escapism. With hundreds of thousands war refugees in my city alone, how could I possibly say there is a bright future ahead?
My brother said this war made him realise how infinitely easier it is to destroy things than to build them. Just one bomb can destroy all the best works of art created by some nation over many centuries, not to mention all the lives of innocent civilians and kids. Why bother making anything if just one madman might blow it all away in a heartbeat?
And yet, seeing so many people around here donate their time, expertise and money, open their homes and hearts, and overcome their personal demons to help others makes me feel like not all hope is lost. If we can maintain even a fraction of this kindness, compassion and solidarity in the long run, there is no force in the world that can stop us.