When I entered “Ukrainians and Poles” into the web browser, the first link I saw was titled “Poles and Ukrainians, Poland and Ukraine. The paradoxes of neighbor relations.” I didn't open it but read the other links: “It is especially applicable to Ukrainians with whom Poles have lived for many centuries in...,” “Ukrainians take away the jobs of Poles. The people who have not noticed...,” “The painful memory of two nations....” However, there were also links like: “Ukrainians: Poles are our best friends...,” “Young Poles and Ukrainians together...,” and “Poles and Ukrainians make money on straw...” With all due respect to the history of these two nations, their disagreements, reconciliation and mutual friendship... if I were to open any of the links, I think I would be most interested in the last one. Straw!

Straw is a very important matter for both of the nations. For Ukrainians it is an essential element of their tradition, an element which is cultivated and passed with genes from generation to generation. It has been very noticeable recently, when Ukraine has finally got down to work, two years after it was awarded the right to organize Euro 2012 together with Poland. As a result, the matches in Ukraine will take place in four cities, even though the works were started at the very last minute. On the one hand the situation with Euro 2012 shows how much Ukrainians are attached to the tradition of a straw-like enthusiasm [Polish “słomiany zapał” - a short-lived enthusiasm]. On the other, it reveals another characteristic of Ukrainians which people often talk about in a whisper when they repeat “Hush, hush... Things will work out...”

Paradoxically, a short-lived enthusiasm seems to be a trait which is common for both Ukrainians and Poles. The old gentry tradition demands that a Pole should go overseas. But maybe you do not need to go overseas now? Maybe next year?...

Stirring up a hornet's nest

By the Warsaw pyramid in Praga, the Egyptian district on the Vistula, dozens of workers are as busy as bees, working triple shifts so that the National Stadium would be ready in time. This beehive is unique because Polish bees are not the only ones which work there. There are also Ukrainian бджоли and, surely, many bees of other nationalities. Maybe the reason why there were such delays in the preparations for Euro 2012 in Ukraine was that Ukrainian workers decided to help Poles first... Maybe even Hryhorij Surkiz (the president of the Football Federation of Ukraine) himself, who is the father of the idea of hosting Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine said: “Ok, guys. We already have two stadiums so we need to help Poles so that they would be ready in time”?! Well, we could say that it is our common love for football. But is it really? When Poland and Ukraine were awarded the right to organize the championship, each country was supposed to have 4 cities holding matches. At first we were so united. But with time Poles started looking in the direction of Germany (maybe planning Euro in Poland and Germany). They were also coming up with the ideas such us “your two stadiums and 6 ours.” In December, when it turned out that each country would host the championship in 4 cities, in accordance with the first plans, I heard in the Polish media: “Ukraine has won!” I thought that the fair division 4-4 means a draw, doesn't it? Or maybe I don't understand something here? It is possible that someone who likes stirring up a hornet's nest will say that Ukrainians take away jobs... And such a claim will be justified because this is what people say in the Isles where Poles take away the jobs of the English... I wonder whether a person who likes setting a cat among the pigeons would set a cat in Beijing if I said that everything is made in China. Maybe that's just how the things are. People go to the West to work or, if they are Chinese, they go anywhere...

Of course these are just speculations... Setting aside the statements which are full of the ungrounded pessimism concerning the division of Euro 2012 between Poland and Ukraine, I need to admit that both countries are loyal to each other when it comes to football. Not only do they organize the championship together but also their national teams are inseparable. The Polish and Ukrainian teams went together to the European Football Championship which took place in Austria and Switzerland and now neither of them is going to the World Championship in South Africa.

In love with renovation

One of the texts I have read enumerates and describes Warsaw buildings which either were owned by Ukrainians at some point in the past or they were founded by Ukrainians e.g. Ostrogski Palace on Tamka Street. I wonder who is renovating this palace now. Maybe some of the laborers who are working there are Ukrainians who have come to the Polish capital to work? The number of Ukrainian citizens who live and work in or near Warsaw amounts to even 100,000 people. Many of Ukrainian men work in construction and that's why I need to mention the renovation of one of Warsaw tenements inhabited by a Ukrainian girl who was born in Poland. As befitted a renovation of a tenement, three-month long works were completed successfully: the walls cracked, the ceiling sunk etc. Because the ceiling sunk, the girl couldn't close the door in her apartment. Finally, she decided to take the initiative. She borrowed a saw from the construction workers and sawed off a piece of the door. When she was returning the saw she thanked the construction workers in Ukrainian.

Five minutes later Andrij (the construction worker and, as it turned out, the owner of the saw) was standing by the girl's door. He didn't come to repair the door bell but, as we often say in Ukraine, “свій до свого по своє” (“he came as a friend to a friend”)...

I won't elaborate on the love story between the Ukrainian girl born in Poland and the Ukrainian guy from Ukraine because this is not the point. The point is that there are significant differences between a young Ukrainian who has lived in Poland for a long time and a Ukrainian who has just come from Ukraine. These differences concern language and mentality.

While Ukrainians who live in Poland permanently may use stereotypes or feel superior, Ukrainians who have just come from Ukraine may think that a person who was born in Poland and lives here is not really Ukrainian. But can it be said that your passport is a proof that you belong to a particular nation? I think that the most important things are: the language you use at home and the tradition you cultivate. The day which is a great opportunity for a Ukrainian to meet other Ukrainians and to “renovate” the knowledge of oneself is “Malanka,” the Ukrainian New Year. It falls on the night of the 13th to 14th January and it is the occasion for the “Warsaw Ukrainians” to meet up. Surely we will meet next year as well and both a young student and an old lady will be able to dance the Hopak (a Ukrainian dynamic dance) again.

I prefer “morozywo”

There are some Polish-Ukrainian couples who live in Warsaw. It seems to me that the biggest burst of love between Poles and Ukrainians happened during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, specifically during the manifestations at the Embassy of Ukraine or the Polish Parliament. It is then when you could see a large number of Poles and Ukrainians getting to know one another. In some cases this process of getting to know another person led to engagement, wedding and children... I have friends who are a Polish-Ukrainian couple. Their daughter, who will go to school soon, speaks both Polish and Ukrainian. She talks in Ukrainian with her father and in Polish with her mother. In most of the situations she speaks Polish and that's why she uses Polish even when she visits her grandparents in Ukraine. It is understandable. When a child is brought up in Poland and is surrounded by Polish language (used e.g. in media or kindergartens) then he/she will speak Polish even if Ukrainian is spoken at home. In the case of this 5-year old girl there is, however, one aspect of life in which she will use mainly Ukrainian even if all people around her speak Polish. Of course I am talking about the thing kids like the most: sweets. When this little girl goes to the shop with her mother, she gets 150-gram ice cream on a stick. When she goes to the shop with her father he buys her “морозиво” (“morozywo”), a box of ice cream which weighs half a kilo. So who would like “морозивa”?

It is necessary to mention one more thing which is very important – the fact that Ukrainian children who were born in Poland or even those who moved here from Ukraine are forgetting their mother tongue and they are not using it. In order to prevent that, children can study Ukrainian language, literature and tradition in a weekend school in Warsaw. Classes take place in the elementary school at 158 Ciasna Street. Children can also participate in the extracurricular classes of the Ukrainian language in the elementary school at 12b Kruczkowski Street. There are also plans to create a Ukrainian class or maybe, with time, even a school. In the community middle school no. 20 at 22 Raszyńska Street the library “Multicultural Club” has been opened this year. Both children and adults can read there Ukrainians books and magazines.

Two Michaels were dancing...

Can culture be related to politics? If your judgment is to be based only on Polish or Ukrainian TV broadcasts showing e.g. works of the Parliament you will find it difficult to answer “yes.” However, it seems that the political relations e.g. between the presidents of Poland and Ukraine are good.

The shape of the political life is something Poland and Ukraine have in common. Both in Poland and in Ukraine the presidents fight with their prime ministers like cat and dog.

Text by Paweł Łoza (пл)
Translated by Krystyna Szurmańska