Taras Shevchenko (Translated by C. H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell)
Send to those boundless traffickers in blood,
The tsars of earth, their ducats and their dollars
And shackles aptly forged!
Send to the heads and hands that toil amain
Upon this earth, so looted and despoiled,
The impulse of your strength!
Vouchsafe to me, O God, upon this earth,
The gift of love, that pleasant paradise,
And nothing else beside!
1860, St. Petersburg
Taras Szevchenko, was a beloved 19th century Ukrainian poet and writer. His Prayer for peace[i] and the gift of love speaks volumes to the current tragic situation in Ukraine. Russia launched its war against Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the cost in innocent lives lost continues to mount, as does the immense damage to Ukrainian infrastructure, the continuing loss of cultural heritage, and the disruption and displacement in the lives of millions of Ukrainian civilians.
When I told Wim Laven, Editor in Chief of the Peace Chronicle, about my upcoming informal ‘peace trip’ to Poland in the summer of 2022 he very kindly invited me to be the guest editor of the fall issue of Peace Chronicle. I accepted his invitation with gratitude. We decided on the title ‘UKRAINE.’ It proved appropriate as the excellent submissions cover historical, social, cultural, political, economic and artistic contributions in this area.
My visit to Poland did not have any other agenda than to help Ukrainian refugees in Poland (5.1 million of them on 31 July) with finding temporary accommodation, free food, medicine, arranging for PESEL (Polish identity card), banking, in whatever capacity I was needed. I wanted to serve them because my linguistic abilities could help those in need. In the first couple of weeks in Warsaw (capital of Poland) I participated in the lives of the Polish volunteers and Ukrainian war refugees, mostly mothers with young children. I met many of them at the train stations (Dworzec Centralny [Central Station], Dworzec Wschodni [Eastern Station]), and in the shops and markets.
Some restaurants were not only accepting donations for Ukrainians but many staff worked without pay for a month or so in order to contribute towards refugees’ immediate needs. One could see Ukrainian flags in almost every window and balcony of apartment buildings and homes, on the trams and the buses. I took part in a couple of protests against war and chanted with participants some heartwarming songs. It was amazing to see such wonderful acts of humanity from Poles who, with their spontaneous, compassionate ‘open hearts’ offered such a warm welcome to the refugees, their neighbours. At the busiest border crossing between Ukraine and Poland (Medyka) thousands of volunteers organized help for the massive influx of displaced Ukrainian citizens. Many fundraising concerts, with a plethora of Polish artists, were held in Poland for the Ukrainian cause. To mention a few: Razem z Ukraina (Together with Ukraine) Chwala Ukrainie (Glory to Ukraine), Jest nas wielu (We are numerous), Solidarni z Ukraina (Solidarity with Ukraine). On the website of the independent Polish newsbroadcaster TVN, there is now a section at the bottom of the page in Ukrainian. It is all part of truly an inspiring story of a nation’s extraordinary kindness and willingness to help.
However, the longer I stayed the more insight I got into the current very complex and complicated political, social, cultural and economic situation existing within Poland today. It made me aware of things that many of us (myself included) observing such global events from afar do not necessarily appreciate or understand in our view of peace. The lived experiences of the interactions between the local population and those they welcome into their communities. It caused me to pause for a moment, to take a ‘deep breath’ and reflect on our views of peace. Are they only on a macro-level of peace between nations in conflict? Or are they also on a micro-level of personal peace in the lives of all of those (both refugees and hosts alike) living in a third-party host nation not party to the conflict? Possibly not.
Nobody can predict when this war will end, nobody can predict what will happen or how it will happen. Thousands of Ukrainian refugees still cross the Polish border every day. According to the Polish Border Guard (Polska Straz Graniczna) at Medyka about 24,000 refugees came to Poland on 31 July alone, the exodus of Ukrainian citizens has not slowed down. Many of them might stay in Poland for a number of reasons (a possible topic for examination) but only some will enter the labour market. Ordinary Poles of all ages, social classes and varied political affiliations are committed to offer help. But they also face mounting challenges in their own lives, the current inflation rate of 15.5% in June and July 2022, coupled with the staggering increases in energy prices, means there is a spreading inability to pay bills and meet their own needs, ever increasing difficulties in accessing medical care, and a difficult political and social situation (that will not be solved overnight). I fear that the goodwill of the Polish people could possibly change if the current situation persists and when feeding one’s own family or getting medical attention for one’s own elderly relatives have to be balanced against a natural desire to help Ukrainian refugees. But as ‘a practical idealist’ (words borrowed from M Gandhi) I do not give up hope and will continue helping people who need help, either with donations, organizing events or serving as a translator in Canada. Many of us, especially those in Peace and Justice organizations are involved in seeking a solution to the current crisis. But what else can we all do to stop this senseless war? In the seemingly endless cycle of violence is humanitarian help enough? Will creativity and a sound plan be enough?
These few sentences serve as a simple introduction to the article that I was planning to write based on my overall experiences and observations in Poland. Sadly, an unfortunate week spent in hospital in Warsaw prevented me from compiling any worthwhile piece for this issue of the Peace Chronicle. In addition, I have to take time to ‘digest’ what I have seen, experienced and learned through my personal experiences before I feel I can share ‘my more-in depth story’ (a much more nuanced story of peace within the personal relationships between welcoming Poles and refugee Ukrainians) with the readers.
Now that I am safely back in Canada I will be sending all the submissions I received on Ukraine into the capable hands of Wim Laven and Emma Lovejoy, our production manager. I am extremely grateful to all the international, well established, and junior scholars and activists who collaborated in our interdisciplinary project. Their thoughtful articles, incredible stories and beautiful poems are very much needed, valued and appreciated. So much has been already written about this war but the readers of the Fall issue of the Peace Chronicle will discover new areas from different perspectives.
By the time you read this I hope that the image of a white ‘crying’ dove that I have in my head will be replaced with a white dove…
Thank you all.
PS. Please note that the submissions are presented in alphabetical order of the contributors’ first name.