People are constantly inquiring about the fate of the refugees in Poland. The situation has clearly stabilized, but that does not mean it is in any way good.
As I have previously discussed on several occasions, the problem has been privatized, and authorities are cynically duping citizens who, for the most part, are genuinely opening their hearts and homes to provide shelter and support for Ukrainians fleeing the war. The state or local governments have done nothing, and the entire ‘great reception’ of refugees is actually facilitated by a group of dedicated activists, followed by those who have a spare room or own a hotel or a hostel or something similar. And it is here that the Ukrainians end up. Those who are fortunate!
Those less fortunate, whom no one wants to take to their homes (elderly, with many children, handicapped, and so on), end up being ‘cared for’ by being ‘accommodated’ in gym halls at schools or in clubs, restaurants, and other such establishments that have yet to open following the pandemic. In other words, those who are most in need receive the least assistance and face the most hardships. This should not come as a surprise given how privatization works in general. In any case, the situation is so bad that in the last week or ten days, there have been more comebacks than emigrants. However, the problem persists: as of April 20th, over 5.5 million people had fled Ukraine, with 3.1 million now in Poland, according to official statistics. Their role in the Polish government’s plan is to be both cannon fodder and a teaser: they want to see violence and chaos erupt within the next half-year, covering the economic implosion ahead of us and allowing the ruling party to go full spectrum authoritarian. That was covered in one of the episodes of On the Barricades.
The political role of the Ukrainian refugees ‘assigned to them’ by the Polish government is to assist the Polish Catholic-fundamentalist right-wing in turning Poland into a low-wage police state.
I’ll go into more detail about that in another video this week or next.
Today, I’d like to highlight a concrete example of how things aren’t working in terms of accommodating this massive influx of refugees. Not a spectacular or scandalous failure, but a regular occurrence.
In Kraków, Poland’s second largest city, the management of the Tauron Arena stadium, which serves as a camp for Ukrainian refugees, stated unequivocally that volunteers are no longer welcome and that their support is no longer required. A strange statement, but it is very symbolic of the municipality’s (which owns the Tauron Arena) true attitude toward the question of actually assisting Ukrainian refugees.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Polish authorities have done nothing in practice. There’s a lot of grandstanding and posturing, but that’s all there is to it! All of the work is done by volunteers, and the good things that have happened in the last few weeks have happened despite and not because of the authorities, neither central in Warsaw nor regional, local, or municipal, which have only publicly boasted about having received such and such number of refugees. In fact, they’ve simply privatized the problem by asking private individuals or hotel owners to accept the refugees and promising to financially support those individuals.
As a result, activists assisted Ukrainians in obtaining the necessary documents, providing food and water, and assisting in the establishment of resting areas while they awaited their turn for their Personal Identification Number (PESEL). By the way, it is necessary to stand in line from 3-4 a.m. in larger cities, and the waiting in line can last for hours, sometimes even more than half a day, which has given rise to petty corruption, but most importantly, it is another contradiction of popular propaganda that civil servants in Poland are working effectively to aide refugees. Total nonsense, as is everything that comes from the current Polish government. It’s amazing how those people lie all the time, through their teeth in the most cynical way possible; literally all the time, much worse than Donald Trump, who lied six times a day on average.
And if that wasn’t enough cynicism and nonsense, there are now reports that some activists and volunteers who are actually doing what the authorities should have been doing are being censored and barred from publicly complaining. According to one volunteer group coordinator at the Tauron Arena in Kraków, security required volunteers to sign an agreement stating that any information (e.g., social media post) that uses the name “Tauron Arena” must “take care of the Arena’s good name.” The woman emphasizes that the entire group of activists (approximately 1,000 people) will no longer work there: the conflict has been ongoing for quite some time, and the volunteers see no way out.
Friends who are actively involved in helping Ukrainian refugees have told me privately that the authorities in Krakow did not get along with volunteers from the start, and the conflict has only gotten worse in recent weeks because the municipalities do not provide any support, not even the most basic; and this is true not only in Kraków, but also in Warsaw, Lublin, and Rzeszow as well as Przemyśl.
One particularly cynical story from Kraków I heard from a friend was that every morning, an employee of the mayor’s office arrives at the main train station, takes pictures of the empty waiting room, and then leaves. A few hours later, a train carrying about 500 refugees arrives, and chaos ensues, but it is not reported anywhere. Everything appears to be fine in the municipal report and the media, but it is a disaster in reality.
The bottom line is that you should not believe that the Polish authorities are concerned about what will happen to the Ukrainian refugees or that they are assisting them. They are only interested in using them for domestic political purposes. That’s all there is to it. They are not welcome, and they have never been welcome; they are being exploited, and they will be completely abandoned in six months or less.
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Bulgarian and Polish activist, journalist, editor, publisher and translator. In the late `90 active in the Polish left and later in the labor movement, particularly the biggest Polish labor confederation — The All-Poland Trade Union Alliance. Until 2012 editor-in-chief of its weekly magazine. Contributor at Baricada.org and Strajk.eu, Polish correspondent for the Bulgarian National Radio.
Currently working as an editor and journalist for the Polish labor portal Strike and as a correspondent to the Bulgarian National Radio in Poland.