The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, assured this Monday that the attack the day before against a military base in western Ukraine – located just 25 kilometers from his country – was aimed at “creating panic” among the population. One of the people she could well refer to is Beata Wozoszyn, who filled the tank of her car in the Polish town of Lubaczow, 13 kilometers from the border with Ukraine. She has done it every day since the war began to escape as far as possible without refueling in case Vladimir Putin also attacks her country.
“We want to live normally, but the situation is abnormal. People buy less these days because they are saving. Prices have risen and no one knows what will happen tomorrow,” says Wozoszyn at the bakery where he works in Lubaczow, where the average age of his around 12,000 neighbors and the images of John Paul II remind us that it is the Polish southeast: traditional, religious, aging and feud of Law and Justice (PiS), the ultra-conservative party in power.
Wozoszyn says that he has been “very afraid” since the beginning of the conflict and that only once before in his 49 years of life – when the end of the communist period triggered unemployment in the 1990s – had he thought of leaving his country. Sunday’s bombing, which caused at least 35 deaths, has made him rethink why he is staying, even more so with his three children already emancipated in other parts of Poland.
Wozoszyn’s fear is – in the opinion of the Polish prime minister – just what Moscow wanted when it decided to bomb so close to an EU and NATO member country. “A missile attack just 20 kilometers from our border shows how Russia operates. He wants to create panic among the civilian population,” Morawiecki said Monday at a joint press conference with his counterparts from Lithuania, Ingrida Simonyte, and Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal. It was a meeting of the so-called Lublin Triangle, a regional alliance inspired by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created in the 16th century. The press conference became a showcase for the hard line against Moscow led by Poland.
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Morawiecki accused Russia of carrying out a “massacre” in Ukraine and using natural resources “to blackmail” the rest of Europe. And he promised to do “everything possible” for Ukraine to enter the EU. A week ago, the Council of the EU gave its approval to kyiv’s request, in an express decision that extends to Moldova and Georgia, also bordering Russia. The Ukrainian prime minister insisted by videoconference that a no-fly zone – which NATO refuses to impose for fear it would aggravate and globalize the conflict – “would save thousands of lives.”
In a country as politically divided as Poland, the war in Ukraine has given a truce to the divide. The fear of being Putin’s next piece (despite NATO’s mutual defense clause) and the flood of refugees (it is the country that has received the most: 1.7 million of the 2.8 million) have left the divergences in background. Tomasz Siemoniak, Minister of Defense between 2011 and 2016 and vice president of the main opposition force, Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, assured this Monday that “the situation is very serious when there is a massive missile attack” so close to the border polish “It is also a very strong signal for us”, he added in an interview with Radio Plus.
A sign that Daniel Argasinski’s parents, Waldemar and Monika, had not expected to receive. On February 25, on the second day of the Russian offensive, they left Lubaczow for the Netherlands, where Waldemar had worked in the past. “My mother calls me every day to tell me to go with them,” he says. Argasinski is 25 years old and studies programming in Rzeszow, the main city in southeastern Poland. When his parents left, he requested and obtained permission from the University to continue classes virtually. “My brother and I have stayed to protect the house, in case some Ukrainian breaks in to steal,” he explains.
In this large town with low houses, life these days goes slowly, but not peacefully. From time to time a military helicopter crosses the sky. Neighbors speak of a lack of products in supermarkets, in what appears to be a mixture of shortages for fear of a Russian attack and a breakdown of stock because the Ukrainian refugees (there is a border post just 12 kilometers away) also buy here now, on their way to other parts of Europe. “The first three days of the war it was impossible to refuel at all gas stations. Now it’s expensive, but there is ”, says Stanislav as he puts the pump on his motorcycle, just outside the town.
Poland is one of the few EU countries that has not changed its currency, the zloty, to the euro. The employee of an exchange house, who does not want to be identified, assures that the demand for euros and dollars by the locals has increased between two and three times since the war began. “It’s not a problem, because after a few minutes Ukrainians usually come to exchange their currency for zlotys and then what I have is compensated,” he says.
In the conversations, several people use the expression “when Putin attacks Poland”, instead of “if Putin attacks Poland”, but the mayor, Krzysztof Szpyt, calls for calm and is more concerned about the “risk of inaccuracy” than entails any bombing in the neighboring country than by a “direct attack”. “In modern warfare, the truth is, a bombardment at 10 kilometers or 50 kilometers does not change so much. […] NATO gives us a sense of security and we don’t want to spread panic”, adds Szpyt, from PiS, in his office at City Hall.
For Jan, on the other hand, the umbrella of the Atlantic Alliance does not give him much confidence. “Our country has the experience of two world wars in which Europe said it would help us and at the moment of truth it stood idly by,” says this 53-year-old policeman after looking at the obituaries on the church bulletin board. Neither does Stanislav, who does not want to leave his country again after 14 of his 55 years as a construction worker in Norway. Less now, that he likes “a lot” the ultra-nationalist government. He considers that Poland’s main problem in this crisis is that it lacks nuclear weapons and that “Putin sees Europe as weak because of the left”, which “has made believe that two or three men, or two or three women, are a family, not just friends.
As a good place of border, the connections of the past with Ukraine reach the present. Czestawa Polinska is 86 years old and makes the sign of the cross as she remembers how she used to go down into bunkers as a child and hide in the woods with her parents during World War II. “The people of Russia tried to kill me and my family,” she says of the Soviet invasion of that area, agreed with the Nazis in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. Since the war in Ukraine began, she has prayed every day in the adjoining St. Stanislaus Co-Cathedral and the Martyr’s Church “so that God protects Poland”.
If such a small place has a co-cathedral, whose cross can be seen above the rest of the buildings in the historic center, it is because the seat of the archbishopric was moved there in 1946 after Lviv, which was part of Poland, was included in the USSR. . It is just the closest Ukrainian city to the bombing on Sunday. Pope Karol Wojtyla visited the Lubaczow church five times, the last in 1991, already as John Paul II. Inside, the skullcap, ring and rosary that he gave to the temple are on display. It is hard to see churches in the surroundings without images or sculptures of the late Polish pope.
Although the Poles have turned to the Ukrainian refugees, some inhabitants of the area do not help them because the Ukrainian Insurgent Army murdered tens of thousands of their ancestors in this area and in eastern Galicia during World War II. A Tax Free advertisement in a Lidl supermarket recalls that, just three weeks ago, many Ukrainians crossed to buy because, after the refund of part of the VAT, it was on their account. Such is the connection that, to Argasinski, his friends in Rzeszow mockingly tell him that he lives in the Ukraine.
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