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“I feel many people are like sports fans,” remarked Adrian Śmigaszewski, a Polish national who agreed to an online interview with me. “You know, like when you support one sports team, people support Ukraine that way.” Śmigaszewski has been studying and examining Polish-Ukrainian politics and history for quite a while, “they make zrzutkas, which is collecting money, and people pay, so they can have vans deliver goods to Ukrainians.” Preceding this conversation, we had discussed the missile that had struck Przewodów in November. When asked about his personal opinion, he stated, “Some people are scared, but it only got worse when that rocket hit.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been marked by a series of confusions and uncertainties, especially for eastern Europe. For example, the missile that killed two people in the small village turned out to be Ukrainian rather than Russian. Initially, the missile was thought to have been of Russian origin, causing some panic, and Czech lawmakers even labeled Russia’s current regime one of “terrorism.” This air of precariousness has caused many Poles to fear the worst but simultaneously evoke a sense of sympathy.
“So they’re donating in droves to Ukraine?” referring to the ‘zrzutkas’ as his Polish accent made me struggle to write anything. “Yes,” said he, “they donate a lot, just casual people. Also, the government made some things for Ukrainians, like free public transportation. They give them some money, as social help.” Presumably speaking of the over 5.15 million refugees, which have entered Poland since the outbreak of the war, when speaking of help with public transport. “Some people lost their houses at war. Some have nothing left in their homeland, lost everything.”
When asked about Polish military action, he claimed, “Some people went to fight in Ukraine, some had already died; Russian propaganda says that there are hundreds of thousands of Polish volunteers fighting in Ukraine, not true. What is interesting to me is that currently our Western allies as well as Russia see Poland as much stronger militarily than the Polish military really is. I believe it's a good thing, respect from allies and opponents, as long as we don't overestimate our power and we improve what we have.” American volunteers have also entered Russia, illustrating the global support generated. However, it is essential to note that Russia has many allies, even in Europe, like Belarus, Transnistria, and Serbia. Even if their governments condemn some actions, the populace deeply connects to Russia as Orthodox brethren and historic allies.
On Poland and Ukraine as neighbors, he asserts, “Polish-Ukrainian history is difficult, but it's our mutual history, as neighbors we should learn how to live with ourselves, despite what happened in the past, there are some cultural differences, different dominating religions, more Russian influence in Ukrainian society (they even use Russian communicator VK instead of FB), what about Ukrainian immigrants after 2014? Most of them were peaceful people wanting a normal life. Of course, many came to Poland for economic reasons, which is understandable. I feel like despite what divides us, we have some common language and point of view on things”
A common theme he talks of is Polish solidarity with Ukraine. Prior conversations revealed him to be a Polish patriot and fiercely anti-Russian. Statements like “Ukraine needs everything now” and “we don't want Putin to go farther” demonstrate how the Polish patriot deeply worries for his country. Indeed, it is not just him. Over 50% of Poles believe there will be a shortage of goods and food, while 70% declared that the war in Ukraine makes them worry about their future.
“Back to why Polish society supports Ukraine that much,” he continued, “it's because we know Russia so well, they have an appetite for more, not just Ukraine. In the XVII century Ukrainians (Cossacks) were defending the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of Tatars, from Turkish and Russians. Russia calling Ukraine an artificial country made by Americans is a complete lie. It's dangerous to be a neighbor of Russia, so it's better to hope that the current Russia will collapse and they will make a normal country instead, without colonies, just Russia ruled by people who care about their own society, not wanting to be emperors of the world.” For context, armed conflicts involving Poland against Russia have occurred a staggering 17 times, going back to 1577. Famously, the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939 with Nazi Germany, after just 21 years of Polish independence from the Russian Empire, and established an authoritarian rule stretching 44 years.
Military and Economy
He went on a passionate speech about how NATO was using its defense budget and how air defense was not about defending every inch but rather strategic areas. However, something in particular he said stood out, “Despite facts, some people still don't believe that NATO will defend us in case of Russian aggression. We need to be prepared for defense, even if we would need to fight Russia alone, because nobody knows the future and from NATO’s perspective, it's better if one country can defend itself from all possible threats. So some people point that out and say that we shouldn't count on allies. Can you count? Count on yourself.” People’s mistrust of NATO or western support may be due to the west’s historic failure to send aid to Poland as none was given when Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia invaded.
I also asked him further about Ukrainian logistics and how Russia is doing militarily, as most Europeans are vastly more informed and perturbed regarding the war. “I read a lot about war efforts, from both sides of the conflict, even Russian propaganda. They even take tanks from the 60s from museums to restore them and modernize them, Russian command believes that they can overwhelm Ukraine.” This explains the ridiculous amount of old machinery that Russia is operating with. Indeed, it seems they are under some delusion of Ukraine’s supposed weakness and lack of resolve even when they were pushed out of Kyiv and are currently being pushed back on almost all fronts. “They prepare new offensives and Kyiv will probably be on the list. This war is about resources, about who will throw more resources, because no side has a significant advantage over the other. Therefore it's more like WW1 than WW2.” The thought of Russians and Ukrainians in trenches brutally gassing and beating each other to death, only to gain a couple of inches of ground, is disturbing but not far off from the truth.
On politics and economics, he had to say, “Sanctions are not fully successful, because Russia buys what they need from India, Iran, and also probably secretly China. This year there will be elections. Most parties are socialist.” Despite his correctness on sanctions being only partially successful, they have clearly hit Russia very hard with 900,000 estimated residents fleeing the country (400,000 being from the draft).
He concluded by linking some ‘zrzutkas’ to help Ukraine and explained some of them:
“This guy gave away his own car, and now is collecting funds, buys pick-up trucks from aboard, because there are no more 20-year-old trucks in Poland anymore. After that he repairs the trucks and mounts them with some armor, so these cars he sends to Ukraine are armored.”
“This foundation buys medical resources for Ukrainian hospitals”
“Here Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine asked for some funds so they can buy some military equipment”
“This guy delivers humanitarian help with own van to the very frontlines, for civilians”
“Here the University workers send humanitarian help”