Over the past two weeks, the true essence of the Polish people came to the fore, a quiet, practical heroism that moved smoothly through the gears from February 24th and left me wondering how well I knew the country I now call home.
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Forgive me today for directing the column to readers beyond Silesia and Poland, but I want international readers to have a better understanding of what's going on here. Over the past two weeks, the true essence of the Polish people came to the fore, a quiet, practical heroism that moved smoothly through the gears from February 24th and left me wondering how well I knew the country I now call home.

I've never seen Poles or Silesians act like this before, but there is something about a crisis that brings out the best in people. The Poles have found themselves, found a part of themselves that had been hidden away for a while: selflessness, the essential trait of all heroes. On every corner, in every neighbourhood, a sturdy, unobtrusive selflessness and yes, I know, writers are prone to fits of hyperbole, but what else can you call the response to this vile war which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people? Heroism comes in many forms; Lt Col Eamonn Colclough, an Irishman who served in the UN and who ran from the Post Office building in Sarajevo to rescue a gang of children whom someone had deemed to be a legitimate target for mortar fire. Eamonn and four other soldiers ran into no-man's land, grabbing whoever they could.

The five Balkan wars were one horrorshow after another and somehow, despite humans intuitively understanding how futile war is, we are once again presented with a world on fire, where children have their faces mutilated and good men and women are forced to run the gauntlet of sniper fire to save the innocent. But there is a light that never goes out. The essential decency of the Polish people is that light. The kind of decency you earn through suffering. You have to see what's going on here in Poland. At every level, people are doing what they can to help Ukraine. Quietly and without fuss, the Poles are being heroic. There is no end of people driving to the border with supplies.

Anna Dziewit Meller drove from Warsaw and loaded up her car with people. People are giving up rooms in their houses. My father-in-law made his cottage available. The universities are making student dorms available. Blankets and medicines are collected and sorted by Grażyna Przybyłek in the ad-hoc setting of Gliwice's local youth centre. In Krakow, they had to close the blood donation center early because there was so much blood being given. Katowice Wyborcza gave up rooms in their offices. It's as if the whole country was looking for an excuse to be good. Maybe. Maybe that's what history taught the Poles, that they can only be selfless in a crisis. They broke the Enigma code, squadron 303 won the Battle of Britain, they saved more Jews than any other nation and now in this war, Poland has an army of volunteers, all geared to helping their friends in the east. There is a light that never goes out. I'm watching the screen here and can see that five minutes ago in Katowice, a dog from Ukraine was given a home.

For the Irish (or anyone abroad) who wants to help, I've set up a page – Galway to Ukraine and you can donate at zrzutka.pl/en/8xnvmz – the PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE is helping to get emergency medical supplies for traumas and I'm going to load up the Qashqai with bedclothes and food. If I get more donations, I might have to rent a van or a truck and take it to the border instead.

It's in all of you, this light that never goes out.

Go, get your cape. Wear your cape. Learn to fly.


Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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