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Wroclaw Postcard: What We Learn About Ourselves In A Wartime Train Station

The war in Ukraine has prompted a huge outpouring of compassion across the border in Poland. It is a positive reflection of the human condition, but also a reminder that we should care for others and outsiders even when there's no nearby conflict.

Wroclaw Postcard: What We Learn About Ourselves In A Wartime Train Station

A soldier giving food to a Ukrainian boy who arrived to the train station in Przemysl

Jacek Harłukowicz

WROCLAW — Being born on the banks of the rivers Vistula and Odra that falls within the boundaries of Poland has never filled me with particular pride. People are more important to me than the Polish red-and-white flag.

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Ordinary human solidarity is more important to me than patriotism. And yet, something made my heart swell last weekend when I went to the aid stations springing up like mushrooms after the rain.

Seeing the help for those whom the Russian authorities decided to banish from their homes by dropping bombs and shooting at them.

Signing up to help

At the main railway station in Wrocław, in southwestern Poland, just behind the ticket offices, the crowd, bustle and chaos were like at a pop star’s meet-and-greet. An epicenter of good energy.

Some people were carrying bags of food, others were collecting cardboard boxes with blankets and sleeping bags or sorting them. Others, noses in their laptops, were trying to coordinate everything, publishing posts on Facebook about what was needed or not. Others were looking for accommodation for refugees coming to the city and drivers were ready to set off. The latter would take men returning to Ukraine to fight for their country. From the border, they would drive women and children back, so that they can safely wait here in Poland.

Refugees fleeing Ukraine at an information point established at the main railway station in Wroclaw

Krzysztof Kaniewski/ZUMA

A wave of compassion

The station's supermarket was also crowded, with dozens waiting at the checkouts. Queuing not because of the journey ahead of them, but because of their compassion. At one of the counters, two students were struggling with a tote bag, trying to stuff food cans, diapers and water into it. At another, an old lady was packing bags of candy and chocolate bought not for her grandchildren, but "for the little ones who were chased out of their homes by Putin.” Young and old, laden with bags of water, powdered milk and paper towels, were waiting for their turn.

It was so busy that as early as at noon, an employee called the manager to inform them about the shortage of canned food, cleaning products and jars of baby food.

All wars are the same

Such help stations have sprouted around Wrocław in recent days. In my neighborhood, medicine, hygiene products and blankets were even collected by a foundation that usually cares for animals. The response of the citizens of Wrocław was so great that in the evening, messages telling people not to bring any more donations appeared on Facebook. Warehouses were already full. But the people of Wrocław kept coming. With a great wave of human compassion.

All wars are the same

By invading Ukraine last week, Vladimir Putin showed his true face: a criminal. In the process, we, the Poles, discovered true about ourselves — huge layers of everything that is best in human beings.

But did we need a war right at our doorstep for that? Do those to whom we extend our hands so beautifully today differ so much from those who, only a dozen weeks or so ago, were begging for help at our borders, while we left them behind the fence?

Their wars were fought — are still fought — somewhere far away, without 24-hour coverage. But their world collapsed in exactly the same way. Because all wars are the same, with their innocent victims and silent heroes.

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This Happened—November 29: Robert McNamara Resigns

Updated November 29, 2023 at 12:00 p.m.

As a key proponent of expanding the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara became the target of much the ire of the U.S. anti-war movement. He finally resigned after being the longest serving Secretary of Defense.

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