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Sunflower War 🌻 Part 3
The war in Ukraine also diminished the line between the wants and needs of those who left the country and those who decided to stay.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred a year ago, on February 24, 2022. This date turned people's lives upside down: some fled the country to give their children a better life, while others stayed in Ukraine, helped as volunteers, and faced the danger of the pro-Putin regime, with constant bombs dropping on hospitals, cultural attractions, and other residential buildings. In neighboring countries, such as Poland, people were helping by providing first aid, groceries, and some clothing items and starting fundraising campaigns to save every possible life.
The story of Kelli Smith, an American who resides in Poland, vividly illustrates a volunteer experience that helped her raise $85,000 in aid for Ukrainians. Smith is today's hero, and what she did for Ukraine is invaluable. So how did she push her limits and raise significant money in such a geopolitical crisis?
Poland: culture, politics, and social background
Our first stop is Poland, one of the significant countries that gave its hand to Ukraine even before the invasion as a preparation measure. In particular, it decided to provide weapons, ammunition, and humanitarian aid due to the threat of a Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border on January 31, 2022, reported Ukrinform, a news website. At that time, everyone was still skeptical that the invasion would take place: the country was developing, its infrastructure was thriving, and most importantly, there was no queue at the border.
The tension arose on February 23 when Russia recognized the separatist territories of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine. According to Prezydent.pl, a portal focusing on Duda's international affairs, this was a sign of conflict escalation from Russia's side. As a result, Andrzej Duda, Polish President, visited Kyiv, where he imposed solidarity and full support for Ukraine.
On the day of the invasion, February 24, 2022, Poland did everything possible to help out fellow Ukrainians. During the first hours of the war, Poland organized nine reception points where they were ready to receive the refugees, noted PAP, a Polish news agency. And since that day, Poland has supported Ukraine in all possible ways. According to Defense 24, by May 24, 2022, they had become the second-largest supplier of military weapons, with a total value of more than $1.6 billion.
"I think Polish people, especially initially, responded to what was happening in the war because they have been through that with Russia. "They have had these moments with Russia," Kelli Smith said of the Polish-Ukrainian relationships during the war.
That is why Polish people felt the need to help Ukrainians; they have been through the same sequence of events, just at different times, and they do not want history to repeat itself, explained Smith. Even though some Poles had negative impressions of Ukrainians as immigrants coming for work before the war, they were the first to jump in to help—such a dichotomy, concluded Kelli.
The complexity of Ukrainian lives: children's trauma and family separation
During the war, most Ukrainian families were separated due to the circumstances. Some women and children fled to neighboring states to stay safe and sound. On the other hand, their husband remained in the country to protect it from the enemy and fight for independence. Such separation was not easy, of course, yet what else can you do under such a sequence of rapidly developing events?
Interestingly, Kelli did not realize how significantly the war impacted people's emotions. As a volunteer, she tried to act immediately with people who had just arrived in Poland and were standing in front of her. "And only then do you realize what they have been through—not only physically to get out of Ukraine, but also the things that they have seen, things their children have seen. You start processing emotionally what they are experiencing and realizing that it has to be almost unbearable," confessed Smith.
While we can empathize with Ukrainians and what they have experienced during the war, we will never fully comprehend how terrifying it is. And the primary reason behind it is that we did not experience it on our skin—we only heard frightful stories from strangers that gave us the shivers; we did not live through the stories ourselves. Ukrainian women left behind husbands, dads, brothers, and sons who actively fought in the war and with whom it is challenging to stay in contact: You never know what will happen the next day. "That's why I always ask Ukrainian refugees if they have contact so they can touch base with relatives and see how they are doing," noted Kelli.
Undoubtedly, the weight put on Ukrainian women's shoulders is considerable, from taking care of their children, providing them with a haven, and giving them a chance for a better life, to moving away from loved ones to a new country where they have to learn the foreign language and find a job to support a family in such a challenging time. "They are relying on other people's kindness while having no means to provide, as sometimes their credit and debit cards fail to work in Poland, even though they have money there," noted Kelli.
At the same time, children have experienced all this trauma firsthand, without any violence or censorship. "I have spoken to moms who told me about the acute trauma. I have seen the children draw pictures of bombs and tanks. I do not know how you compare seeing your child witness another child lying on the ground dead," shared Kelli, sharing her insights about children's trauma and how it affects their daily activities, including drawing, which is typical for some children. The only odd thing is that pictures of ponies and rainbows were replaced by Russian aggression in the form of flying bombs and driving around tanks.
The bottom line here is that Ukrainian women are true heroes of today as they not only deal with separation anxiety with their families and husbands and constantly check on them but also try to explain to their children why this is happening and why they see things no child should have ever witnessed in their lives.
The thin line between wants and needs
The war in Ukraine also diminished the line between the wants and needs of those who left the country and those who decided to stay. Due to the constant bombing of power plants, many people lost access to electricity, heating, or water to cook food, shower, or stay warm, especially since this was dreadful during the winter. Some cafés and grocery stores found a way to romanticize life and find positivity even in such situations. They started using candles so visitors could see at least what they bought or ate. It also affects the work-for-home population, which periodically loses access to WiFi and, therefore, cannot provide for the family.
In other words, most people lost access to the most basic needs, also known as physiological needs in Maslow's Pyramid, including air, water, food, sleep, clothing, and reproduction. According to the theory, physiological needs are "the essential things a person needs to survive... A person's motivation at this level derives from their instinct to survive." Even though Maslow's hypothesis suggests that people's motivation is in survival mode, Ukrainians were strong enough to sustain the previous lifestyle with creative solutions, including candles in restaurants or cooking food with mangals.
On the other hand, Ukrainians who fled the country faced a variety of wants and needs dilemmas. In particular, they felt indebted to those who provided them with shelter or temporary housing or donated some clothes. As a result, volunteers, including Kelli, have a different perspective on this story.
"The line between wants and needs is very interesting when thinking about it. You are buying things for people who are refugees, and for the most part, people are very reluctant to ask. They do not want to take anything," said Smith, emphasizing that refugees still need some things but are afraid to ask. That is why dignity and respect are crucial in this process, especially for Ukrainians, as they do not want to appear mercantile or privileged.
The story about the needs and wants of children has a different meaning behind it. For instance, Smith mentioned a thought-provoking action: "Kids do not need bikes and scooters and toys, but they deserve this because they are kids. They've been through so much, and small acts of kindness and happy moments are well worth it." Children should have the careless childhood they deserve, without war, tanks, rockets, or bombs.
Another story that vividly illustrates the line between wants and needs happened to Kelli and one of the refugees from Ukraine, already in age. "In the first two months, we took an elderly woman shopping for her and her husband, and she did not want too much. She was thinking about how much, and sometimes again, we have to say - no, no, get one more shirt. And, in the end, she asked if she could get one tube of lipstick," said Kelli. Of course, the 80-year-old woman received lipstick because it was a matter of dignity.
Other stories involve the generosity of volunteers and how they do everything to help Ukrainians, whether buying food, donating clothes, providing shelter, or simply remaining human. Only by understanding a person on a deeper level could you be empathic and do everything possible to improve their life situation.