The war is taking a turn none of us expected, especially the renewed attacks on Kyiv, where explosions and a barrage of missile attacks disrupted their previous month-long stillness. Yesterday, a grocery store in Kharkiv was bombed.
Vladyslava’s text from Turkey: Last month, I thought that probably would be possible to come back nearest time and the situation becoming more calm, but now again seem that ‘there is not light at the end of the tunnel’ and it will be continuing a long time. In Kharkiv, they are bombing everyday, but in spite of this a lot of people have come back, at least now transport works and there is no humanitarian problem, so if you have money and do not lose job there is possible to live.
Big problem with Mariupol, Kherson and people lost their hope that these cities will come back to Ukraine, people already can get their Russian passport, so if some Ukrainians support ‘Russian World’ they can go to Kherson and officially get Russian passport.
I still have hope deep inside to come back home by the end of summer, but time will show.
Vladyslava was our first resident to appear at Sichów with her mother, Lena, and Daria, who was pregnant at the time. (Daria is still here, now with her daughter, Diana, husband, Igir, and his parents, Tatiana and Sasha.) If Vladyslava cannot go back home, she and her mother will likely return to Sichów.
Clearly, however, if they are bombing grocery stores in Kharkiv, it makes sense that they are trying to create a humanitarian crisis, much like what they did in Mariupol.
Natalia, our precious five-year-old with Down syndrome, autism, a heart condition and now a hernia that needs surgery. Paul has uncovered every stone trying to get this surgery pushed through the NFZ (our national health provider) without much success. The several cardiologists with whom he has consulted say that there has to be another complete set of tests before they will consider surgery; plus, we must wait another year. These tests were run in Ukraine just before the war, so Paul drove them an hour away to a translator of medical documents, hoping translated tests will be accepted. Presumably, there is a law in Poland that allows for only Polish doctors to conduct such tests when considering further surgeries. She is a plucky little creature, but, still, having had two previous open-heart surgeries, the thought of now another operation requiring general anesthesia is a reason to proceed cautiously, which may mean going private. Once the tests from Ukraine are translated, then we can take the next step in searching for another cardiologist who can see us within a reasonable time frame and can advise to our legal restrictions (if there really are any) and, basically, direct us to the safest, most expedient path possible.
In the kitchen this week, we’ve had two groups of women cooking — one group, preparing lunch for the community and the other, preparing meals for artists in the Palace. (A commitment we made two years ago to host artists from America.)
There were about eight of us in the kitchen yesterday, circumventing potential collision as we maneuvered our way to the finish line. What made it all the more interesting is that one group was preparing vegan dishes while the other, the usual Ukrainian fare. (I’d say encountering more than a physical collision but rather a culinary ideology as one cook looked suspiciously at the other.)
The group of artists in the Palace are working on a project pioneered by a woman in New York whose Polish/Jewish grandmother miraculously survived the Holocaust. She works with maps, showing how there were high functioning Jewish villages before the war (including schools, synagogues, bakers, tailors, butchers), and then how the demographic changed considerably after the war. It’s a fascinating project which has expanded over the years to includes memoir writing and music. The central theme of the work is: loss.
Our residents don’t know about this project, and even though the visiting artists were eager to hear their stories of loss, Paul and I declined on their behalf. There was even a suggestion of re-framing the question of what a future home or a rebuilding of a destroyed one would look like. In either case, the sensitivity is notable. As written in Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season…a time to keep silence and a time to speak…”. It is too soon to speak of loss because no one knows to what extent the loss. The war is not over.
One of the hardest concepts to communicate to someone is active war. Not even I entirely understand it. As I gaze out my window on our trees in full leaf, the sun casting its shadows, the children at play creating a picture of beauty and serenity, how can I imagine a scorched landscape with plumes of smoke rising on the horizon? And yet, it was like this here in Poland eighty years ago.
There is a time for action and a time for reflection. What happened in Poland during WWII can now be reflected upon. We can write books and films and plays, and make art and paint and dance this story, but not for the Ukrainians, not now.
Now the women must cook. They must garden. They must sew. They must paint beautiful landscapes. They must read playful, happy stories to their children. They must take the bus to town. They must gather on Friday nights to drink wine together and tell their own stories to each other, not the ones we may want to hear as a spectator. This is a private world exclusive to those who understand the concept of active war.
For Igir, his parents, Dasha and baby Diana, they are moving to Krakow in the morning. I stepped away a few moments ago to get a cup of coffee and met Igir in the kitchen who told me the news. His company has opened an office in Krakow. I knew the move was imminent, but I didn’t know how much trouble they’d had over the past month—the failed attempts to secure an apartment after they’d been promised one and having to be in constant contact with social media, watching for opportunities which would be listed and then ten minutes later, removed. He told me that he was once fifteen miles from the city centre on his way to sign a lease on an apartment unseen when the landlord said, sorry, not available anymore. In addition, Dasha said that her parents live very near where the grocery store in Kharkiv was bombed yesterday or the day before, but they don’t want to leave just yet. They keep hoping but Dasha says that already the ruble is becoming currency in many parts of Ukraine, specifically near to where her parents live, and she so wishes they would join them in Krakow. As it is, the apartment there is far too small for four adults and a baby, but they must start over again somewhere. Dasha agreed with me that the Russians will continue to bomb Ukraine’s food supplies.
The other crisis about to develop in Poland is from areas like Zakopane, where hotels have been accommodating refugees but are now asking all to leave unless they can pay. We have a family here with other family members in a hotel and they’ve been asked to leave. When they were offered Sichów, they declined saying they would seek help from the volunteer service near them to find them accommodation. I hope they find something because we have a mother, grandmother and baby coming across the border in a few days for the room where Igir and Dasha were staying.
What next? What’s on my mind?
I am worried about the Ukrainians in winter with no heat and with food supplies in short order. I am worried about the refugees here in Poland without adequate care. I worry about the children with special needs and the animals left behind.
Two days ago, one of the women came up to me in a slight panic. Her son had torn his shoes. They were ruined and he only had this one pair. How would he go to school? It was 6:30 in the evening and I was already quite tired, but there was something so tangible in her voice, in her eyes: Her boy had no shoes. There is something archetypal about shoes, and I couldn’t explain it to Paul, who wanted me to wait until the next day to go out but I insisted on taking them at that moment. The relief was immediate. I’ve been to holocaust museums throughout Europe and in America, and there is something about shoes that I can’t explain which sends me into a state of despair when I think of someone who hasn’t a pair. We bought two pairs for him and two for mama. They didn’t want to take advantage, so they hadn’t mentioned they had only the shoes they came with when they crossed the border.
I am attaching a link to a BBC article I read on five ways the war may play out. It’s a sobering article, and another worry.
And finally, dear Paul, who keeps up with all the doctor appointments, taking this one here and that one there, acting as both translator and comforter for those who are sick and frightened in a foreign country.
I have much more to say but it must wait until the next installment. Till then. Thank you for reading, thank you for caring, thank you for your contributions. I perish to think where we’d be without you.