February 24 was the beginning of a new era. It has put us on the edge of World War III. But this is not just a war between Ukraine and Russia. It’s a clash of civilisations where a dictator with the mentality of a conquistador from the Middle Ages is trying to conquer a sovereign country because he and some other Russians believe in a Great Russia. But Ukrainians certainly do not.
Everyone in Poland is shocked. Everything felt meaningless the day Russian troops and tanks rolled into Ukraine. Then people started to react and organise. Facebook, LinkedIn and other forms of social media became the base from where humanitarian aid was organised for the first wave of refugees who were mainly women and children. The Ukrainian men had stayed on to fight. People started to spontaneously collect food, clothes and shelter for Ukrainians. Private cars dashed to the border to help the refugees. Companies donated to Ukraine – the big ones gave millions, others pitched in with whatever they could: food, transportation, warehouse space. Russian articles were withdrawn from sale in all the shops in Poland, followed by the Belarusian ones.
By now, over 7,00,000 refugees have crossed into Poland. Many are living with Polish families, who have opened their hearts and homes to the people in distress. As Poles, if we do not stand for Ukraine, no one will stand for us in the future. We know that after Ukraine, sooner or later, Putin will try to grab Poland. I thought that it would just be a matter of days for Russia to win, since it is attacking Ukraine from three sides. However, now it looks like it could take weeks or even months. Or till Russia loses or all Ukrainians die. It’s not the strength of equipment, superior technology or number of soldiers that will decide this. It is the morale, leadership and the determination to defend one’s own country vs a poor reason to start a war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy—who started his career as a comedian, is a great dancer and not a bad actor—has also become a living legend in the last few days. His answer to an American offer of evacuation, “I need ammo, not a ride”, is now a meme. His wife and kids still live in Kyiv, with the constant threat of being assassinated or bombed. Also worth mentioning are the last conversation of two of the 13 brave Ukrainian troops of Snake Island who were killed by a Russian warship, after they did not surrender, knowing very well they would die.
“I am a Russian warship. I suggest you lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary victims, or you will be bombed,” the Russians said.
“So this is it … Should I tell them to f**k themselves?” a male Ukrainian soldier was heard saying.
“Well, just in case,” a female Ukrainian soldier responded.
“Russian Warship, go f**k yourself,” said the male soldier.
This kind of bravery, courage and leadership made a lot of young Ukrainians—working in Poland as truck drivers, factory workers and IT specialists— return to their country and defend it. We are not talking about those with prior military experience or ‘big guys’ with a lot of muscles. These are your typical neighbours; some of them hate the military and violence. I virtually helped one of these men to cross the road, and I’m a bit proud of doing that.
But let’s talk about Adrii, a 31-year-old welder who lived a quiet and happy life in Poland. I’m not sure if his fiancée wanted to have kids but taking into consideration how badly she wanted to keep him in Poland, how she wept and how sorry he was…it’s evident they are very much in love. He has two years of military service in the navy but, as he said, it is too short a time to become a hardened soldier. So, he is not properly trained to use a weapon. But he still decided to join the Ukrainian paramilitary with a bunch of friends. Due to the lack of enough weapons and military equipment with the Ukrainian army, he was told to procure his own weapon or fight with his bare hands. Over 50,000 of such Adriis have crossed the border from Poland to Ukraine, and over 1,00,000 Poles helped them as I did. A co-worker called me a few days ago and asked:
“Marek, can we as a company provide a first-aid kit to a Ukrainian guy who is going to war?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Great, we are preparing a night-vision device for him and additional equipment, and we are looking for a bullet-proof vest.”
“I have one. It’s more of a souvenir with the personal value from my stay as a sales representative in Iraq, just after the war. It’s not the professional one, of course,” I said.
“If we do not find one, I’ll call you.”
And guess what. At this moment, my vest is somewhere near Kyiv, close to a huge convoy of Russian tanks and military trucks. Adrii and his new friends live quite spartan lives, trying not to be killed while they kill or destroy as many enemies and equipment as possible. In return for my favour, I get some pictures, and I hope that my vest will not be needed. I told him I want it back out of sentimental value, so he needs to survive and bring it back to me.
The truth is that no one will win this war. Putin won’t stop it because he will lose face. Ukrainians prefer to die than surrender. The West is too weak to implement real sanctions and Asia prefers to be neutral or even support Russia. Already over 1 million people have left the country and, it seems, that at least a few more million will leave. Thousands are dying, and millions have lost their homes, jobs, and places to live. Schools, hospitals, kindergartens and civilian buildings have been destroyed. Russians have started to rape Ukrainian girls and women. Soon, encircled cities like Mariupol will see people die from lack of food, electricity, water and heat. Humanitarian corridors are not being allowed. The only negotiations are: surrender or die.
By the time the war stops, it will be too late to forget and forgive. A solid Iron Curtain will again divide the East from West. In Poland, we feel we are part of that war. We know from history how it is to be abandoned against an enemy superior to us. We are doing a lot. But all of us should do more to stop this war. NOW!
(Marek Kubicki has an MBA in Medical, MA in Political Science and Arabic Language at the Warsaw University. He is the Board Member of Damiana Medical Center, currently providing free of charge medical aid to Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw. Views expressed in this article are personal and may not necessarily reflect the views of Outlook Magazine)