“We have delivered $500 thousand worth of aid in total.” The story of a volunteer from Poland

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Olga Solarz was born and raised in Poland. Since 2014, he has been volunteering for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. An ethnographer and translator by profession, she delivers cars, clothes, optics, and communication equipment to our boys and girls on the frontline. She calls herself radical and is annoyed by those who are not worried about the war. In her opinion, it concerns not only Europe but the whole world.
Photo by Olga Stolarz

Photo by Olga Stolarz

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Lviv Now asked Olga why she decided to go to the front, what motivates her to help the Ukrainian army, and when she is near to giving up.

Tell us about yourself. Do you have Ukrainian roots?

I am a citizen of Poland, I was born here, as were my parents. But our family has mixed roots. One of my grandmothers comes from the Sumy region, now it is the Konotop district. The second one is from Lithuania. One grandfather is a Kashub from the northern territory of Poland on the Baltic Sea side, the other one comes from the city of Yaroslavl, which is considered one of the centres of historical Nadsyannia. He called himself half-Polish, half-Ukrainian. My family also has German and Tatar roots. This influenced the fact that we needed to establish an internal dialogue between all the elements and narratives that were dominant within it. On the one hand, there is a Polish narrative, on the other hand - a patriotic Ukrainian one.

I have always felt that my Ukrainian genes are the strongest. The Ukrainian grandmother told me a lot about Ukraine. Once I even visited the Sumy region together with her - I went to her sisters, and contemplated the landscapes above the Desna river area. At that moment, my Ukrainian relatives became very close to me, and I understood that this is my land.

It gave you the understanding that you should not be on the sidelines of the war, right?

In our family, we were never aloof from any events, we always responded to everything and provided help. I understand that I don't have to do this, but I do. However, there are Ukrainians who simply profit from the war, and this hurts and infuriates me a lot. I have to control myself in such moments.

Yes, I am radical. I believe that the war in Ukraine affects not only Ukraine but also Europe, and the world in general.

What infuriates you the most?

Indifference and expensive cars with Ukrainian license plates in Poland.

Read also: «The EU needs Ukraine, especially at this moment.» Jan Pieklo about prospects of Ukrainian resistance

At the beginning of the war, you helped Ukrainians to find apartments in Poland.

This was only in the first days of a full-scale invasion. Later, I changed my profile, so the issue of refugees did not become a priority for me. I understood that many people are already engaged in this, that here they will be provided with all the necessary help. These people were immediately brought from the station by cars and resettled, while the guys over there, in the hot regions of Ukraine, held back the horde and needed help.

Every person should have something to do with war. It doesn't matter if you are constantly collecting help, buying necessary things, or weaving camouflage nets once a month - it's all help. And if you don't have time, you can transfer money to the army.

I remember how back in 2014, we stopped in one village in the Volyn region [western Ukraine]. The old grandmother handed the boys garlic in a bag. I felt that I would like to convey something else, something more, but I didn't have it. I cried then. Another grandmother knitted socks for soldiers. These are all examples of what each of us can and must do for our victory. If it were not for the efforts of the mass of people, Muscovites would have been in the west of Ukraine long ago. So we have no right to stop!

Read also: «This war exposes the truth about ourselves,» – Canadian volunteer Ustia Stefanchuk

You know, the Ukrainian community in Poland is very patriotic. We grew up on myths about Ukraine: Ukraine-mom, Shevchenko's Ukraine, Ukraine which is sung in chants. It’s instilled in us from an early age, and it is hard not to notice, not to feel it.

I do not know anyone from the representatives of the national minority in Poland who would be indifferent to Ukraine. Everyone does something - helps, collects, or donates.

Do you often go to the front line?

In 2014-2015, I was delighted with the Luhansk region. Beautiful remnants of the Ukrainian language dialect have been preserved there. It was very pleasant to hear the local pronunciation. And now, I remember an old woman Sasha from the Donetsk region, who cursed Muscovites with such a "juicy" Ukrainian accent. It was scary, but so sincere.

I don't like the name Donbas, because it's more about coal, not about people, not only about the territory of Ukraine but also about Russians... It's better to say Donechchyna, Luhanshchyna. So, the Donetsk region, where I am going now, is wonderful and beautiful, as well as the people who inhabit it: good, kind, warm. Of course, they’re tortured and destroyed by work and war. Now, there are still many grandmothers living there, who host, feed and give overnight accommodation to our boys in their apartments.

Read also: Roman Waschuk: “Ukraine is seen as a victim, but it is competing and developing

How about your last trip to the front, how did it go?

It was already the 13th trip. Always in the Donetsk direction - to the former "Aidar" battalion, although at the beginning, I helped various units.

This time, I delivered winter berets, flip-flops, gloves, jackets, in two words - warm clothes. I also helped drive two cars bought by other volunteers. Next time, I will drive a car that was handed over by the daughter of an activist who died a year and a half ago. No one used this car, so she decided that it would be better that way.

Read also: An individual state can play a crucial role. Professor David Ellery about Ukraine, British experience and the victory

In front-line conditions, cars break down quickly, and now they also need winter tires. Fighters spend a lot of their own money on car repairs and fuel because they understand that a good car can save their lives.

Also, our military is in dire need of heaters, active headphones, and walkie-talkies.

Who does your "Magic of the Carpathians" foundation help, with whom do you cooperate?

I never help organizations. Also, I try not to leave any help for other volunteers to hand something over or take away. If this happens, it’s only to those whom I trust and constantly cooperate with.

I am radical and critical, but I always check who I will help. In 2014, I had an unpleasant situation when, being a citizen of Poland, I was kidnapped by the people of the former MP. They put a bag on my head, brought me to the basement and interrogated me all night. The men were in balaclavas, with machine guns, and were pressuring me to assist them. Later, I was released, but then our bus with the humanitarian aid was stolen. There were cases in National Police, SBU (Security Service of Ukraine), but soon they were closed...

Now, in addition to the military, I help civilians in the frontline zone. I am most moved by elder women who worked all their lives on collective farms, their husbands have died, their children have moved away, and no one cares about them now. There are no shops or pharmacies nearby, buses do not stop there, and no one comes at all. Those women cannot leave because they have nowhere to go. When I occasionally bring packages with basic products and other necessary things to lonely people in remote frontline villages, they cry.

And who are the main donors of your fund?

Various people transfer money to the fund, but mainly the Ukrainian community in Poland. Poles who understand and prefer to support Ukraine also help. It is difficult to say in what proportions, approximately 50 to 50. It happened that a man who had birthday gave the entire amount of money he was presented with. Money collected at funerals was also dumped. A few days ago, we were handed the money collected on the funeral of Mrs Iryna Drozd. For more than 30 years, she was the director of the T. Shevchenko Comprehensive School with the Ukrainian language of instruction in Biały Bor, which is located in the north of Poland. There they collected a considerable amount, for which I will be able to buy a night vision equipment or a car for the boys. Such moments are very touching.

Can you say how much the fund was raised in total, and how much you have already helped the fighters?

At the beginning of the war, I was still doing calculations. Then I got lost, and I regret it very much. There are funds that are transferred to a bank account, and it happens that those who care give money or buy the necessary things. In total, we delivered and distributed aid in the amount of about half a million dollars.

Read also: Vitaliy Portnikov: «Ukrainians have always made their choice»

During this time, everything was transported: jackets, hats, thermal clothing, glasses, medicines, shovels, axes, optics, dry solders, helmets, armored cars, cars, tires, first-aid kits, shoes... - everything the boys needed.

What do you do between trips to the East?

I work in Poland as a translator from the Ukrainian language, I deal mainly with documents, and that's how I earn my living. I am not engaged in science, as I haven’t worked at a university for two years.

I know that you are also an ethnographer. Does it come in handy during trips to the front?

Yes, I am a researcher of the so-called magical thinking: I have been studying folk magic for years. Magical thinking is present at the front, I notice right away. I have everything reduced to automatism, so when I am in the East, I always show research curiosity. Once I talked to a woman who was left alone in the village. When asked why she did not leave, my interlocutor replied that before she left, she had to see a prophetic dream and would wait for it until the last moment. This woman is a believer, every time she asked God to see prophetic dreams. If she dreams of a Bible, she will leave the village, and if she dreams of a goat, she will stay. This is magical thinking. Finally, she did leave - her house was bombed, and her goats are running on their own.

What motivates you to go to the front on and on?

I went there for the first time without knowing anyone yet. My motivation comes from within. I was always active, participated in the Orange Revolution and the Maidan. At the age of 15, I studied at the Ukrainian lyceum in Biały Bor, and then already understood the changes taking place in Ukraine. I knew that there was a Revolution on the Granite [a mass student hunger strike under political demands in Kyiv, October 1990 - almost a year until the Soviet Union collapsed]. Even then, at the age of 15, it was natural for me to stand in solidarity with Ukrainians.

You probably feel tired quite often.

I'm tired of doing nothing. I felt physical fatigue at the beginning of the war, when people constantly called and asked for something, or when I returned after visiting the guys, rode in a “kennel” of the bus, lay on a carriage and turned from side to side like a sack of potatoes. But when I remembered that the guys in the cold trenches feel even worse, tougher, and more dangerous under constant fire, inspiration returned to me. That's why I say: everyone should experience such "therapy".

Many times I was with the soldiers at ground zero, I felt what it was like when missiles whistled overhead. That's why now, when I get tired, I immediately think of the guys who are there, on the front lines, and the fatigue disappears instantly. I control myself, I say that we must continue to work - until victory. Now I'm not too worried about fatigue, more about people's indifference. This is what really tires me out. I am infuriated by the indifferent Ukrainians!

And what about the motivation of the Ukrainian military?

For me, the guys who are on the front line are heroes, pearls, diamonds, and extraordinary patriots of Ukraine. I met many fighters from the Luhansk region who have absolute patriotic consciousness. At the time of the invasion, they immediately went to the checkpoints and almost barehanded tried to repel enemy attacks. When they realized that a large column of equipment was advancing on them, they joined another unit and the territorial defense fighters. No one helped them then, there was not even support from relatives, because they either left or ended up in the occupied territory. There are also cases when family members, sons of our fighters, were forcibly dragged into the so-called LNR army. For boys, this is despair, especially when their father is fighting for Ukraine, and one of their relatives is on the side of the enemy...

When fighters from the occupied territories die, almost no one sees them off, the village does not kneel. People do not throw flowers in front of the coffin, because there is no one.

In peaceful life, some of them were farmers, gardeners, had acres of land. Some were shop owners, and now they have nothing. But they fight, and defend their land. These are the guys I help and will help.

For all those willing to help the "Magic of the Carpathians" fund with money for the purchase of necessary items for the Ukrainian military, we provide a bank account:

Fundacja Magia Karpat

BIC/SWIFT CODE: PKOPPLPW

PLN account: PL47 1240 2568 1111 0011 1177 6048

USD account: PL59 1240 2568 1787 0011 1183 3406

EUR account: PL32 1240 2568 1978 0011 1333 8512

Note in the title: Darowizna Pomoc Ukrainie/Donation to help Ukraine

Olha Shveda, translated by Vitalii Holich

Photo by Olga Solarz

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