Journalist Anna Budyńska was among the many grassroots military of Polish volunteers who rushed to assist Ukrainian refugees as they started crossing the border in February to flee Russia’s invasion of their nation.

At first, she and her associate donated cash and picked up meals and blankets for refugees arriving in Warsaw. However she wished to do extra to grasp these whom she was serving to and determined to be taught Ukrainian.

“I all of the sudden realised that I had all the time cherished to journey to western Europe, India or Mexico, however I had by no means visited Ukraine, knew nothing about Ukrainian tradition and solely a little bit bit about its historical past that was taught in school,” she mentioned.

Polish historian Maciej Franz mentioned 2022 can be remembered as “a particular yr of integration” between “two nations that had been remoted from one another by politics half a century in the past, and even earlier by hatred and hostility, which was the results of the nationalism that raged between the mid-Nineteenth and twentieth centuries”.

He mentioned his nation was serving to Ukraine “as a result of we all know what it’s wish to be underneath [Russian] occupation and the way horrible it may be”.

Anna Budyńska
Anna Budyńska began studying Ukrainian after Russia’s invasion © Maciek Jazwiecki/FT

About 1.3mn Ukrainians lived in Poland earlier than Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, and the quantity has greater than doubled since then.

Their presence has given Poles a brand new sense of kinship with and respect for his or her neighbours. Arguments over darkish chapters of their historical past — notably the Nineteen Forties massacres of Poles by Ukrainians in Volhynia and different Nazi-occupied areas — have been changed in Warsaw by public tributes to Ukrainians for preventing Russia.

“We share a definite fatalism and the identical historical past of Russian imperialism, so many Polish individuals really feel that the identical form of Russian aggression might as soon as extra await us,” mentioned sociologist Karolina Wigura.

Poland’s focus has additionally began to shift away from the practicalities of housing Ukrainian refugees in direction of longer-term cultural integration. The Museum of Trendy Artwork in Warsaw now hosts the Sunflower solidarity centre, which organises workshops, cooking lessons and weekly lectures on the theme of “decolonising” from Russia. A lot of the audio system are Ukrainians and a few are current refugees.

Curator Natalia Sielewicz mentioned the solidarity initiative had moved on from initially appearing as a “pit cease” for displaced Ukrainian artists. “It’s just lately been far more about studying about Ukrainian tradition and unlearning Russian imperialism,” she mentioned.

Warszawa Zachodnia Bus Station, which is the main hub for Ukrainian travelers
In Warsaw many billboards now goal Ukrainians and are written of their language © Maciek Jazwiecki/FT

Whereas many Ukrainian refugees got entry to free Polish language lessons, their very own language is now broadly featured on billboards and used on Polish TV, the place retailers reminiscent of Lidl air Christmas advertisements with Ukrainian subtitles. Warsaw cinemas run movies with Ukrainian subtitles, whereas Polish corporations have designed Ukrainian-language variations of their apps.

This cultural embrace has come virtually as a shock to some Poles who as soon as regarded down on Ukrainians, significantly after Poland leapt forward of its neighbour economically after becoming a member of the EU in 2004.

Soccer fan and journalist Joanna Rokicka mentioned she remembered being upset when Poland and Ukraine co-hosted the 2012 European soccer championship, believing Poland ought to have hosted the match alone.

“For many people, the Ukrainians had been then simply our home cleaners and fundamental employees, simply as Poles have been for the English and others,” she mentioned. “However we’ve now seen their bravery and the way they’re preventing for us towards Russia.” 

Since February, Poland’s navy and political assist has been unwavering, even after Poland and Nato attributed an accidental missile strike that killed two Polish farm employees final month to the Ukrainian military. Within the aftermath, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki mentioned that “it’s in our greatest curiosity to assist Ukraine”. Every week later, he made one other go to to Kyiv.

However the financing of this assist has dwindled, with odd Poles now scuffling with 25-year-high inflation that has diminished their donations and elevated refugee fatigue. The Polish authorities just lately eliminated many subsidies given to Ukrainians.

Because the warfare drags on, extra Ukrainians and their companies are embedding themselves into their host nation.

Oleksandra Pysankina left Kyiv in February and continues to work for Vivid, a Ukrainian digital promoting company, from Warsaw.

Pysankina mentioned that in its early days in Poland, the company was proud to advertise its struggles as a Ukrainian firm making an attempt to outlive. “However we now have now modified the narrative as a result of I feel individuals in Poland had been additionally getting a bit uninterested in listening to this and we now need to present ourselves as a standard market participant that’s paying taxes in Poland.” Vivid registered its subsidiary in Poland in July.

Oleksandra Pysankina
Oleksandra Pysankina, head of enterprise growth at Vivid, moved to Poland after the beginning of Russia’s invasion © Maciek Jazwiecki/FT

Regardless of the goodwill between Warsaw and Kyiv, it isn’t clear whether or not Poland will spearhead Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction.

Some Polish executives draw a distinction between strongly supporting Ukraine’s warfare and eager to do enterprise once more shortly in a rustic the place they struggled regardless of preliminary optimism after Ukraine’s 2004 Orange revolution, when protests compelled the repeat of a rigged election.

Polish personal fairness agency Abris Capital Companions opened an workplace in Kyiv in 2006, the identical yr as its Warsaw launch. It invested in Ukrainian retail and monetary providers however ultimately withdrew to focus as a substitute on Romania.

“After the Orange revolution, many corporations rushed into Ukraine hoping it will turn into the following Poland, however large inflation, devaluation, the shortage of robust establishments and corruption compelled many people to again off,” Abris associate Monika Nachyla mentioned. “I’m positive there can be some prepared to take an aggressive funding strategy [after the war] however that in all probability received’t be our path.”

Postwar Ukraine and Poland will in any case have to consolidate the newfound solidarity solid by Russia’s invasion.

“There’s no such factor as a stable and without end good relationship between nations,” mentioned Wigura, the Polish sociologist who lives in Berlin and highlighted the current souring of relations between Poland and Germany, together with over a Polish demand for €1.3tn in reparations for wartime losses inflicted by the Nazis.

“However not less than we will say that when it comes to a grassroots reconciliation between the individuals of Poland and Ukraine, we’re now in an excellent place.”


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