‘Anxiety, concern:’ Ukrainians in Poland on Russia threat
Hrystyna Zanyk, one of an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainians living in neighbouring Poland, said they fear that Russia will invade her homeland has left the community rattled.
“There’s anxiety, concern,” said Zanyk, who has been living in neighbouring Poland for nine years.
“We fear for our loved ones who stayed behind in Ukraine,” she told AFP.
The news from back home is far from reassuring: Russia has deployed over 100,000 troops and heavy armour along Ukraine’s borders, according to the West, which fears that the Kremlin will stage an incursion.
“Us over here, we’re safe, far from the whole thing. But everyone is grappling with how to respond to the situation,” said Zanyk, editor-in-chief of “Our Word”, a Ukrainian weekly in Poland.
There is a longstanding minority population of 50,000 people in Poland and around 300,000 Ukrainians have Polish residence permits but the actual number living there is estimated to be much higher.
– ‘Never going back‘ –
“We send home money so that they can make rent, pay the electricity bill, buy medication and food,” said Lessia Savchyn, a cashier in Warsaw.
“I’m never going back to Ukraine… It’s unlivable over there,” the 26-year-old added.
But Dmytro Dovzhenko, a veteran of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, said he was ready to return if Russia attacks.
Dovzhenko heads up a mutual aid foundation for Ukrainian veterans who have settled in EU member states.
He himself served in battle from 2014 to 2019 but now lives with his family in Wroclaw, a city in the southwest of Poland.
“Seventy percent of us are ready to return to Ukraine the moment we’re needed,” he told AFP.
“If there’s a big war, we’ll re-enlist and we’ll do what’s required.”
Dovzhenko admits however that he “no longer feels anything” in response to the news coming from the Russia-Ukraine border.
“This war, it’s been going on for eight years. Nothing has changed,” he said.
“Things are actually a little better now because we’re getting help from other countries,” he added in reference to international efforts to defuse the security situation.
The West’s involvement “is a good thing, even if it’s a little late,” said Miroslaw Kupicz from the Association of Ukrainians in Poland.
He recalls that the conflict has already claimed the lives of 13,000 people “not to mention the wounded, the expelled.”
– ‘Vacuum cleaners for Kalashnikovs?’ –
Far from home, migrants are often at the mercy of social media, which abounds in fake news and questionably sourced information sowing confusion.
Galina, who hails from the region of Ternopil in western Ukraine, has been coming to Poland regularly for the last decade to work as a cleaner, just like her mother.
Anxious about what is happening back home, she no longer wants to watch the news. But the rumours continue to circulate.
One rumour she heard was that all Ukrainian women must register to be called up if necessary.
“What will we do in this war? Cook for the troops? Swap our vacuum cleaners for Kalashnikovs?” she asked.