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From Warsaw

From Warsaw

April 8, 2022 4:06 amComments are Disabled

Good morning from Warsaw. I took the night off last night, and saw a Ukrainian friend from Lviv who told me her story of leaving with her mom shortly after she woke up to the sound of explosions. She and her mom spent 3 days in their car waiting at the border to cross, which makes the almost 5 hours I spent there sound luxurious.

I also learned last night that Russian speakers in the western part of the country have been getting real rough treatment by Ukrainian speakers since the war started, with “only Ukrainian spoken here” signs in restaurants and — shockingly — physical assaults, including some graphic pictures she showed me of a Russian-speaking friend of hers who was beaten and cut up by Ukrainian nationalists. Though she wants to go back to Ukraine, having Russian ancestry, she’s almost as scared of her neighbors as she is of Russian soldiers. Europe is no picnic for immigrants, either. “I don’t know where to go” she told me.

That was a side of the war I haven’t heard about yet, another layer of complexity whereby the Russian minority in the west is suffering the consequences of Putin’s assault on the east. It will also no doubt throw fuel on the fire of Putin’s lies justifying his invasion of a sovereign nation, to “protect” Russians from Ukrainian “Nazis.” I also learned about Polish and German language products finding their way onto supermarket shelves in the east, likely due to black market dealers who are profiteering off the goodwill of neighbor nations. War is complicated, and really does bring out the worst of humanity in so many ways.

However, as I’ve learned in the last week, war also brings out the best of humanity. I’ve seen tractor drivers collaborating with programmers and civil engineers pooling money from friends and families to procure and transport vehicles to support the war effort, and I’ve seen strangers work together to transport food and medicine and relieve humanitarian needs, often with no relationship to each other and connected in a chain of mutual friends. When something needs to be done, no one yet has asked what’s in it for them, but has unquestioningly sprung into action. We’ve moved mountains in the last week alone just because Ukrainians are united in their dedication to the dream of a sovereign and free Ukraine. No doubt there are political divides, just like there are in any nation. But when confronted with a foreign invader, these political divides fade away and lieu of something more important, and more powerful.

In the 12 hours I’ve been in Warsaw, the adrenaline and intensity of my time on the border has slowly faded away. Here, we are back to the banality of normal life: traffic, grocery stores, ordering an Uber, waiting for a train. But even in Warsaw I haven’t been able to totally disconnect from the border. There’s a giant tent outside the central train station with volunteers serving food to inbound refugees, and in the elevator at my hotel I heard a family speaking Russian, and I asked where they were from. “Mariupol” the mom said.

I think I understand now a little better what it’s like for people who have come from these situations, either as veterans or survivors of war. There’s a part of me right now that feels relieved to be away from it all, and a part of me that’s almost addicted to the adrenaline and wants to go back. Because I know that right now, the urgency I felt to move as fast as possible to help people who are trapped in a city with no access to supply routes is still real and present in Ukraine, even though my physical distance from it makes it seem less urgent.

This is why I am committed to getting at least one more major aid shipment out this week, and we will start in Warsaw with the unattainable grains they can’t get in Ukraine. We’ll get that across the border Sunday, and we’ll load it onto the truck with the food that we can buy Lviv, and send it off to Kharkiv immediately before the Russians cut off the supply route — we heard a rumor that it is happening soon. It’s worth noting that my new friend who’s in my phone only as “Lviv Food Handoff” is risking his life driving to Kharkiv right now to drop off the humanitarian aid we delivered this week as well.

He’s a dentist.

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