Young people in Poland say war in Ukraine has transformed them: NPR

From left: Tomek Mądry, Basia Olszewska and Lilia Nguyen say the war in Ukraine has made them reevaluate their own lives in Poland.

Adam Lach for NPR


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Adam Lach for NPR


From left: Tomek Mądry, Basia Olszewska and Lilia Nguyen say the war in Ukraine has made them reevaluate their own lives in Poland.

Adam Lach for NPR

As Ukrainians rushed to the Polish border to escape the Russian invasion, countless Poles ran directly to meet and help them.

And these experiences of coming to offer help, of inviting people into their homes and bearing witness to the suffering of their neighbors, are having a profound effect on this generation of young Polish adults.

Basia Olszewska, Lilia Nguyen, Tomek Mądry are all Poles in their twenties. The war has changed the way they see themselves, their government and their roles in Polish society.

In their own words, they tell NPR what that transformation has been like.

Tomek Madry, 24 years old, student

Tomek Mądry took a refugee from Ukraine into his home after the war started.

Adam Lach for NPR


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I’ve been to the border twice, and we only came by transportation, only with our own personal cars. I also spent a couple of days giving people coffee, giving them tea, all of that. But what changed me the most was that I came back with a refugee after that in my own house. I live in a two-bedroom flat and have been sharing a room with him for almost a week. I don’t have separate bed, we sleep in the same bed. It was really demanding studying at the same time, working at the same time and having a refugee in my own home.

After the crisis passed, and the refugees started coming here, you start talking only to people who are involved in these things. I mean, it’s hard to go to a party and talk about something else. So we have to reevaluate our normal life. I mean, I have a job, I have a status, all that stuff, all that mundane life that’s going on. But what changed a little bit, I noticed that I don’t talk as much with people who aren’t as committed.

I have seen mothers crying, children vomiting at the border. We adapt to the situation. It is difficult to understand, but we are human, we adapt to the situation.

Lilia Nguyen, 25 years old, student

Lilia Nguyen says that seeing strangers help each other has inspired her.

Adam Lach for NPR


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My perception of everything changed when I went to the border. It was like a week and a half after the war started. And I would say that those five days at the border were the most intense days of my life. After that, when I came back to Warsaw, I needed to reevaluate everything I do in my life.

What I have noticed is that the friends I have in Poland, for example, are aware of what is going on, and they are more informed and they recognize everything that has been going on when it comes to the war. Because it’s happening next door.

But it is also difficult to predict how everything will go further in the future, because the war has been going on for more than two months, right? I’m already losing track of time. And you can already see that some people are getting a little bit, I’d say not annoying, but less motivated to help.

Now when I’m in Warsaw, I don’t really feel like I’m helping, even though I’m working with different organizations sending different things to Ukraine. It’s still something different than being on the border, having this first-hand contact with those refugees. And I think it’s quite, not beautiful, but I would say overwhelming, that you can help in these times of crisis. And I’m really in awe of how literally strangers work with strangers to help strangers, you know. And to me, it’s quite moving, actually.

I think we all have some moments when we don’t know how to react to some experiences. And at some point, we were kind of paralyzed. But then in our head we just need to get over this and our blood runs cold. And we’re good, we’re good to go, we need to figure this out. And that’s how we learn, you know, with all the experiences that we have, that we deal with.

Basia Olszewska 22, student and teacher

Basia Olszewska says that she cannot go back to living like before the war.

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It was the first day of the war and I woke up, my roommate woke me up and said that the tanks crossed into the Ukraine. I was just crying and couldn’t stop. And I didn’t know what to do. And then after a day or two, we took a group of three people from the Congo, but they were studying in kyiv. In the morning, there were eight people in my room. So this was the beginning. And then my roommate and I decided we wanted to help. And we are now helping in our organization, it is a club of Catholic intellectuals.

I should do the things that I can do, you know? I did not see myself rebuilding the Ukrainian country. I’m sorry, but it’s not for me. I can organize camps for children, that’s what I usually do. But more generally, I can’t go back to the situation we had before.

Our generation now, we know exactly where the small towns are in Ukraine and where the refugees came from. And it’s a fantastic thing, because we’re interested. We love the people of Ukraine. I know how it sounds, but we really care.

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