Rivers of humanity and compassion

On the morning of February 24th, logistics became our national obsession. In just a few hours, it seemed that the entire country had mobilised itself for the transport of thousands of people, pets, food and other essential items – and also to ensure that they were all headed for the right destinations

All at once, pacifists were also putting on bullet-proof vests, non-believers were bringing gifts to churches, vegetarians were asking which preserved meats were the best and dieticians were propounding on the benefits of sweets. It also turned out that we could live with more people in the same space. The only regret was that our apartments and homes were not as flexible as offices. It no longer seems like such a good idea to have no doors, to join rooms together and have open spaces with many uses, when we now have guests in need of some privacy. Memories of my childhood apartment home now stream back to me with more fondness, when we had three rooms and a separate kitchen.

What has now happened in Poland has been extraordinary. Individuals have proven to be exceptional as volunteers when it comes to unpacking lorries and handing out aid packages. But organisations have been making their own contributions, too, including NGOs, charities, small companies and large corporations (and the real estate sector has certainly been no exception), as well as local authorities and the state itself, which has opened the border, issued national insurance numbers and also a great many other things to make life easier for those forced to settle in Poland as well as those who were passing through. Local groups on social sites have been complaining less about their town councils and instead publishing offers for specific help: a room for the night, a longer-term apartment, a washing machine, a coat for a six-year old, sugar, rice, hair conditioner… Only a few hours were needed for the people on my estate to find, food, money and equipment for more than a dozen families. There are no words for this, as it is truly remarkable.

My only regret is that society was far less mobilised when many fewer refugees appeared at Poland’s border with Belarus. A zone still exists there that humanitarian organisations have no access to. When I was crossing a bridge over the river Bug a while ago, police politely checked the trunk of our car. But even now, as another million cross our Ukrainian border, a barrier wall in Białowieża forest is still being erected. Doubtlessly, many will point out the numerous differences between the two cases – including people who I know, like and respect – but despite all of this I can’t get my head round any of it.

As I write this piece, 51 days have passed since the Russian army invaded Ukraine. People have donated whatever they can, including money, items and their own time. This has helped some of our guests to find their feet and they now have apartments, jobs and independence. Many have since passed through other borders. Some, however, still need our help – and this will soon be harder to come by. The support they have been getting has been flowing in an ever slower and more unwilling stream, as can be seen at local aid centres.

Our world is changing. Where will international capital now flow to and what will we heat our homes with? Will borders be re-drawn and how strained will our democracies become? Will our current guests become our fellow citizens? I really do hope that the wounds inflicted upon Ukraine will soon begin to heal and its cities will be rebuilt. And that we can then, once again, plan carefree holidays in the beautiful cities of Odessa, Kharkiv and Kyiv.