Yesterday, I spent the better part of the day in a processing center for Ukrainians who are being sponsored by UK families or joining their own families already re-settled. It was an impressive set up in a modern office building in Rzeszów city center. The visa application department of Sheffield sent a dozen or so volunteers to assist in this massive relocation plan. It was well organized, friendly, with plenty of water and fruit and toys on hand for the children while these tireless case workers attended to each group. There were upward of one hundred people filing through and according to the gentleman who worked with us, it was about an average number per day.
There are over two million Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Of course, not all will stay. And nobody knows how long the war will last and what will be left upon return. Who will be in the market to rebuild? Who will have the stamina, who will not? For the moment, though, some are here taking shelter and making a plan.
Sichów has been a place of rare occurrence as it has allowed its residents an opportunity to recharge. They have a private space with an ensuite bathroom, nutritious food, on site administrative assistance to advise with their documents, access to medical care, medicine, new shoes and clothes. And toys for the children. This is possible because of our generous donors from around the globe. We do not accept assistance from the government.
However, today we experienced an exodus. Room 1 and 6 have moved on to The Netherlands and we understand Room 11 is right behind them. Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, in line for these rooms, which will be prepared for the next uprooted, traumatized family in need of legitimate care, but my heart is feeling the great sadness of one who stays behind fully conscious of the unpredictability these families will encounter along the way. (Let me pause here and redefine the word family for you. These are mothers and children traveling alone. There are no fathers, brothers, husbands — only women and their babies. It is necessary to visualize this in order to understand the impact.)
I’m not so grandiose as to think that Sichów can be all things to all people; that would certainly be an inflation. It’s just that I can’t stop crying again. When the house was full and those in it at a temporary stopping point in their diasporic journey, there was an odd sense of peace, a kind of Arcadian bliss, a pastoral atmosphere where we all perceived ourselves safe from the horror of war and the evil that relentlessly pursues. Like a sweet dream.
But our situation is otherwise. It is an image of women and their children on the run from a beast, a monster who cannot be satisfied; in fact, so dissatisfied is he that he murders pregnant women and women at their most sacred hour, when giving birth. He thinks this will satisfy his hunger.
This is our world. And it has been for a very long time.
When I lived in Scotland, I remember a story that came out of the Iraq war. It was a bus load of twenty or so women coming back from work. They were intercepted by a tribe of one affiliation or other and beheaded each and every one. One was pregnant. That night, mama didn’t come home. Nor did a daughter, a wife, an auntie, a sister or a friend.
This is our world. There is something in me that chooses to weep because the rage is so great and I don’t know what to do with that, so I will cry and I will keep buying cake and toys for the children. The new ones. The ones on the road already have a doll to carry. That’s comforts me greatly.
I know that what is happening today is another chapter in the book of nationalistic ideologies and that doesn’t really help me figure this out psychologically because I am mad and everything in me wants to protect and restore to its rightful place a woman who makes broth for her sick child. Women seek many a path today so I must mind myself that I don’t stereotype us. But I feel we are in danger of losing values that historically have been associated with women.
When will it be enough for those who have enough but continue to consume? Will there ever be a time again when domestic life is appreciated, enjoyed and treasured for what it is? Hard to say. It’s not a question to pose to an inner-city single mother raising children on a minimum wage. Nothing terribly appealing about that, is there?
So this is our world. What do we value? When will we change? When will we wake up to a more superior consciousness than what social media represents?
As I write this entry, we have already had a call to receive a woman, a grandmother and two children with no money on the platform in Warsaw. They will be coming tomorrow.
Infrastructures, attitudes, values, will have to creatively change in order for there to be a chance at a new consciousness. We are living in a fatherless world. We lost our fathers during the Industrial Revolution to machines and now we are losing them to war. The inner cities are plagued by the absence of a father who is fully present in his child’s life. I can’t bear to think of those Ukrainian men who will not be coming home again. But this is part of the reality of war.
John Hill writes in At Home in the World, ‘Obviously, there are vast differences in the social circumstances of the privileged few who can derive much satisfaction in transiting from one culture to another, when compared with economic or political immigrants. No doubt the privileged have problems of their own; nevertheless, they and their dependents receive ample help in making necessary adjustments—many international schools and social faculties are professionally geared to alleviate the pains of cultural change and cultural loss. Far worse is the plight of economic or political immigrants who have been forced to leave their original homeland. They begin their new life in a state of disorientation, often without any adequate aid in readjustment, and are usually unwelcome or stigmatized. Slums and ghettos, racism, and sex tourism express some of the ugly living conditions of millions of men, women, and children who are forced to live in transitional spaces due to political persecution, the need for economic survival, or the destabilizing effects of exploitation of their land and culture by the richer nations of the industrial world. It has become increasingly difficult for immigrants from the Third World to achieve equal status with the citizens of their host country.’
Paul and Stefan and I are seriously considering something more than care for these residents and once we have a plan in place, I will let you know.
Meanwhile, we open our rooms, our kitchen and our hearts to new women and children who need to regroup, rest and reset.