Why do Poles actually help Ukrainians?

Where do the slanders come from that we are not a society that helps out of a deep, thoughtful and rationalised, based on religious or so-called humanistic beliefs, desire and will?

The war in Ukraine is ongoing, and it seems to be nesting there for good, as terrible as that may sound. This is probably why on Twitter and in other posts on social media, but also in family and social conversations, there are reflections on why Poles help Ukrainians so intensively, so efficiently, so effectively and so systemically. Both those whom the war drove out of their homes and out of their country, and those who remained there in Ukraine.

And these considerations are often unwise, to say the least. Intellectual provocations such as 'they are helping because they hate the Russians so much' are as thoughtless as they are unauthorised. But, unfortunately, they appear and will be present in the public space. This type of thinking - or at best intellectual provocation, insofar as it occurs among conservative audiences - presupposes that there is no goodness in us, no openness to others, no Christian openness to our neighbour, no love of others. Without fear of being accused of repeating myself, I list these virtues, because each of them has a slightly different range of impact and a different scope of feelings, not those derived from the level of emotions, but those generated by reason: I am a Christian, so I help. I am human, therefore I help. I am, therefore I think - therefore I help.

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By what right does someone - anyone, not just an ideological opponent - try to tell me that I am helping because in this way I am strengthening my aversion to Russia, neutralising my fear of it, building up resistance to it? And what is the result of such a way of thinking? That Poles cannot afford noble and lofty acts? That they do not help the wronged, the expelled, the bloodied, the persecuted? That they are not sufficiently Christian?

It doesn't take a war in Ukraine to see how Poles respond to appeals for help: all it takes is a cataclysm in the antipodes for our wallets to open up and for donations to flow into the account of Caritas Polska. For example, such a campaign "Family to Family" for needy families in Syria has been running continuously since 2016. Several tens of thousands of Polish families are still systematically making monthly donations through Caritas Polska to help specific families in Syria.

I don't have to resort to data from Caritas, because I know such families myself, who receive information about the extent of the help provided with their help. And this is just a small example, because I do not intend to present here the balance sheet of the aid activities, but whoever wants to know, knows or finds out - if he helps himself, he does not boast.

Of course, if you want to pin a patch on a house, you can find a hole: you can always say that it is easier to pay a few hundred zlotys (easier? then pay it yourself, you complainer!) than to open a house and invite a person in need. But now, houses have just opened for refugees from Ukraine, who have been invited to them. So what, it's not good either?

Well, I guess it's not good, since the malcontents - because I don't want to say provocateurs - are complaining that this is not aid "for" - but aid "against". Well, people!!! Is it really so hard to admit that Christianity with its set of tasks and virtues is realistically present in our lives?

It is not the purpose of my column to promote Polish virtues and a noble Polish character without flaws, because such a model does not exist. No, the aim is to draw attention to the fairness of what we, as a national community, have been able and are able to do for others, for our fellow man.

As early as in the 19th century, when the tsarist authorities forbade religious congregations which also provided systematic charitable assistance, activists, both laymen and clergymen, appeared in the " deprived" Polish lands, who were able to provide this organised assistance to the needy. For example, Honorat Koźmiński (1829-1916), a Catholic priest and Capuchin monk, as early as in 1855, together with Angela Truszkowska, founded the Felician Sisters' Congregation, the aim of which was to carry out charitable activities – the congregation is active to this day, and surely more than one of the great critics of the "Polish character" has benefited from its assistance when he wanted to place an ill and unconscious elderly person in a decent nursing home.

In the years 1872-1898, the same Father Honorat Koźmiński founded 14 clandestine female religious congregations - and there is no shortage of candidates - whose task is, among others, charity, personal sanctification, and apostolic action in families, factories, hospitals, etc.
2012. The Felician Sisters' facility for chronically ill women. In the photo: 112-year-old resident Apolonia Lisowska with her sister Anetta. Photo Rafał Guz / FOTORZEPA / Forum
In the Prussian partition, a landowner named Edmund Bojanowski (1814-1871) first set up orphanages for village children so that they could experience care and education, and then the Congregation of the Servant Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which carried out educational and charitable work in all three partitions - and is still active today.

During the First World War, Poles, above all women, wives and mothers, organised in countless Relief Societies and other parish structures, carried out continuous relief work, even though nobody was in a comfortable situation, there was hunger, disease and poverty.

And back to our times. Every day for the past two months, Radio WNET has broadcast a variety of programmes featuring people who are helping Ukraine and its citizens, and the specifics of this help. Two months have passed and there is no shortage of topics, and yet this is not the only radio station that reports on such actions. And not to boast, but to spread goodness, encourage others, inspire, support and build.

So where do the slanders come from that we are not a society that helps out of a deep, thoughtful and rationalised, based on religious or so-called humanistic beliefs, desire and will?

Dana Bash, a CNN journalist in an interview conducted on 7 April asks the President of Poland: "I would like to ask you about the issue of anti-Semitism throughout history in Poland. How does this relate to what Poles are doing to Ukrainians now? Poland has very painful memories of the Second World War, there were pogroms against Jews in your homeland before, there were concentration camps here during the Second World War, Jews were expelled from the country in 1968. Do you think that what Poles are showing now, this huge heart towards Ukrainians, is a certain attempt to repair these wrongs?"

I am full of praise for the fact that the President did not fall for these - truly wretched - ploys and calmly explained to the journalist, like an ill-educated child, what was and what is: that the concentration and death camps were the work of the German occupying forces, that 1968 was the work of the dictatorial Communist Party in power imposed by the Soviet system, and that the pogroms were organised by tsarist agents and their imitators. We have been going through these miserable journalistic outrages for a long time, but now the situation is too serious to shrug our shoulders at ignorance, deliberate malice or planned manipulation.

This was supposed to be a short column, not a systematic review of aid actions, activities, events, concerts, fundraising and meetings. That is why I do not present numbers, lists or names here. Sapienti sat, as the ancients say - and the vast majority of Poles know this too. It is not about making you feel better either, because in this matter everyone must answer for themselves. It is about something much bigger and more important - about saving people. And about the common good - of two nations.

– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: March 2022. Central Collection Point for gifts for refugees from Ukraine at the Poznan International Fair. Photo Marek Lapis / Forum
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