Publikujemy angielskie tłumaczenie tekstu Krystyny Garbicz Dzieci Mieszka – z Ukrainy, urodzone w Polsce.
The goodwill and ability to help Ukrainian families who, having escaped from Russian aggression, are trying to live, work and study in Poland, are slowly running out. The State no longer supports Poles who take in refugees. It is time to re-establish relations and look for solutions. In OKO.press we want to write up the stories of the visitors from Ukraine, to hear them from you. We are also waiting for letters from Polish employers, hosts, anyone who wants to write a comment or submit an idea. Write to [email protected]. See also: https://oko.press/kategoria/jestesmy-tu-razem/.
I hear a knock on the door of the room where I was staying for the night. I open it. Olexandra pulls Erik out of his pram and jokes about parking their taxi in the corridor. Erik is a tiny handsome boy in a blue turtleneck that matches the colour of his eyes. He has fair hair and four teeth, which I notice when he smiles at me.
Erik is the first child and only baby boy born at the Mieszko Hotel in Gorzów Wielkopolski. Olexandra would never have thought that she would give birth to a child in a foreign country.
There were complications during childbirth; the doctors performed a caesarean section.
‘I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed at home,’ she says.
Olexandra wakes up in a bed in the Zhytomyr hospital on the morning of 24 February. Her due date is approaching. Posts are appearing in the internet that war has broken out. This is confirmed by a neighbour, a female soldier who was on maternity leave. She called her husband, who is a professional soldier.
‘War in our times?!’ Olexandra cannot believe it.
Patients and nurses in the maternity hospital are crying. There is chaos and fear. Olexandra phones her parents. She makes sure her younger sisters have not gone to school. The doctor comes to work at eight o’clock in the morning. She has driven from Ozerny, where the first missiles fell. She discharges patients who are not due to give birth in the next few days. The others stay. They give birth in the basement.
Olexandra goes home. Four days later, the hospital where she was lying is left without windows and doors because of bomb attacks. The women in labour are taken to another hospital. It too will be partially destroyed shortly.
Her mother and sisters, aged 9 and 13, are going to Poland. Dad says she should go too. They take Olexandra to the border; she has to go further on her own. The doctor writes: 37 weeks, you can give birth at any time!
Olexandra reaches her first overnight accommodation in Poland after 35 hours of travel. She is going with her mother-in-law. Her mother and the girls went separately – the children are adopted, so transport was organized for them by the social services.
Olexandra was first taken to a sports hall in Chelm. From there, a Polish volunteer took her to a hotel in Gorzów Wielkopolski. He said they would take care of her there. That is enough for her.
‘Does it take long to get there?’ asks Olexandra.
‘Eight hours. I will be driving through towns so that, in case of an emergency, hospitals are close by,’ the stranger promised.
In Gorzów, he introduced Olexandra to his acquaintances, who later helped her; he talked to the doctors, he took care of everything.
‘I felt at home here. I wasn’t even worried, because I knew everything would be fine here,’ says Olexandra.
‘Are you planning to return to Ukraine when the war is over?’
‘I don’t know, it all depends on what the situation is there.’ It’s obviously best being at home. We returned from there a few days ago. I went to bury my father... he was killed in the war. I didn’t want to leave my mother and the girls alone. However, it will be safer for Erik here in Poland.
‘He always said that if everyone hides from the war...’ Olexandra catches her breath and tries to compose herself. ‘Someone should defend us. I’ll go because I have children and a wife here. I don’t want the orks to come here.’
I offer my condolences.
‘What can we do? We aren’t the only such family. There are, unfortunately, lots of us here already,’ replies Olexandra. It is difficult to talk to her about it. The wounds are fresh. ‘It’s sad that Erik will never be able to talk to his grandfather.
Olexandra hugs her joyful son, who she holds on her lap. Erik does not yet know what world he has come into.
‘How long will we be here? ‘I don’t know. We will have to pay for our accommodation after a year’s stay. I don’t know what that will be like.’
‘Are you here on your own with your son?’
’Yes. My mother-in-law returned to Ukraine a month after he was born.’
‘Won’t your husband help with the costs?’
‘Knowing our relationship, I can’t count on anyone. At the moment we are here, we have something to eat, we are warm, we have been given absolutely everything, we don’t need anything. And we are extremely grateful for that.’
Olexandra and her son Erik. Photo Krystyna Garbicz
Of the 305,000 children born in Poland in 2022, more than 10,000 are Ukrainian. Of these, 4,306 are children of war refugees. Seven of them were born in the Mieszko Hotel in Gorzów Wielkopolski. Like Erik, Olexandra’s son.
Mieszko was transformed from a seven-storey hotel where business customers stayed into a centre for war refugees from Ukraine. It hosted around 400 people free of charge for a year, while more than 800 passed through, staying overnight. 330 people are currently staying there.
The beginnings were tough. The hotel staff, as well as most Poles, had no experience of providing aid on such a scale.
In Gorzów Wielkopolski, which is close to Germany, the Ukrainian language was a novelty. The Poles and Ukrainians have now become close friends.
I came to Mieszko to ask my compatriots, after a year of full-scale war, how they had saved the new lives they had been carrying in their wombs, and how they feel about Poland.
8 August 2021 is a special day for Ilona – she is getting married. Before that, she did not want to even consider marriage or a child. She was a student at medical school. She planned to get married soon after graduation. She finds out in October that she is pregnant. Everything is going great. She intends to go on maternity leave in April. They are looking for a replacement for her at the clinic, where she works as a midwife.
She is sure she will give birth to a girl. Her name will be Myroslava. Ilona had been thinking about this name for five years. She cannot wait to find out her baby’s sex. In other words, to confirm that she is right.
‘We organized a gender party on 19 February, we ordered balloons, as is the fashion now,’ Ilona recalls.
A year passed on 11 March since Ilona had come to Gorzów with her 74-year-old grandmother. She had already worked in Poland before; it was not an unknown country to her. At first, they lived in a place of collective accommodation. Then, a resident of Gorzów took them into her house. When Ilona gives birth to the child, she even jokingly proposes that she should be the godmother. She refuses, because, if Ilona returns to Kharkiv after the war, they will be a long way from each other. What good is a godmother at a distance? So Ilona waits with the christening.
Two months before the birth, she starts looking for another place to live. It will be too cramped for her with a baby and a grandmother in a small room. There are no longer any free offers available. She goes to the train station to the reception desk. This is how she ends up at Hotel Mieszko. She gives birth to Myroslava on 21 June.
‘Sasha’s experience helped me. And if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have known many things and would have felt lost. She talked about appointments to doctors, vaccinations, how to sort out the formalities. I very much liked giving birth here. I have my own experience to compare it to; I worked in a maternity hospital for five years.’
She does not know that her grandmother is able to go with her. Her husband is almost 2,000 kilometres away, but present at the birth online. Ilona dreams of giving birth on her own, even though the foetus is large. When green amniotic waters appear, the doctors decide to immediately conduct a caesarean section. The baby weighs 3900g.
‘I was lying down after the operation and called my husband to show him my daughter. She even managed to smile at him. And then the shelling started there. He hung up and ran to hide. I didn’t know what was happening to him for several hours,’ Ilona recalls. ‘I was very nervous.’
He comes from Berdyansk, which is now occupied. He cannot go home or join his family. All that is left for him is work. He is a welder and now he welds bars for air raid shelters.
‘He is waiting until the war is over and we will go there or he might come to us.’ Myroslava has not yet seen him in person, only via Telegram.
The flat in Kharkiv is whole. The place where Ilona worked is actually no longer there. The building remains, but without windows or doors. The clinic is not working, the doctors have left.
‘If it wasn’t for Myroslava, I think I would have stayed in Kharkiv,’ says Ilona.
‘Haven’t you thought about going with Myroslava, at least to Lviv and meeting her husband there?’
‘I’m still afraid of travelling with her. She’s a very active child. It won’t be easy for my husband to get to Lviv either,’ says Ilona.
She cannot do this online.
‘Kharkiv is constantly under fire, after all, I’m scared of even going to Lviv. I remember how we stayed in basements hiding from the attacks. The money doesn’t seem worth it to me to go there with my child.
‘And will you return after the war?’
‘On the one hand, I really want to go home. But the fear remains. There’s no guarantee that everything won’t start all over again. Perhaps if my husband was with me, it would have been easier and maybe I could have said we want to stay here. Now I can’t even answer that question for myself.’
‘Don’t you envy the women who have left with their husbands?’
‘I envy them, but it’s not bad envy. When I hear that someone’s husband is to come, I think, why not to me? Some people leave through Crimea [men of conscription age aren’t allowed out of the country by the Ukrainian authorities; those from the occupied territories are trying to leave through Crimea – ed]. But now, to risk it... how many situations have there been that people were shot. I have a lot of friends who died during the war, so as long as it’s possible, he is staying there and I am here with the baby.’
She says there are numerous parks in Gorzów. She did not show me her favourite places because it’s raining. We talk in different languages: I speak Ukrainian, she speaks Russian.
‘Where are you from?’ she asks.
‘I think you can hear my Galician accent.’
‘Yes, yes, we can already tell who’s from where. You can hear it right away,’ Ilona smiles. ‘Once Sasha and I were walking and talking to each other in Russian. A Pole was passing by, recorded us and shouted: death fuckers. I think he thought we were from Russia. My husband asks me to speak Ukrainian here so they don’t look at me strangely.
I have also signed up for a Polish language course here at the hotel. The question is which language should Myroslava learn: Ukrainian, Polish or Russian? She hears all these languages. It happens that I speak to her in Ukrainian and interject a word in Polish.
'He told me to pack our documents and belongings. I thought we were going together. Patriot. He pulled out his documents before the border,’ says Halyna calmly.
They live in the Vohlynia region, bordering with Belarus. At night, when the invasion starts, Halyna’s husband does not sleep. He thinks about how to get his wife and sons to a safe place. Halyna had registered her pregnancy three days earlier. ‘After the operation, the doctors said I would not give birth on my own. There were risks. However, I gave birth here.’
‘She’s pulling off a sock!’ I notice that the child, dressed in a bright pink tulle skirt with a bow in her hair, is trying to undress.
‘She can already do it.’
Halyna wanted three children. After two boys, she was dreaming of a daughter. She lost her third child. She had surgery to remove a fibroid. She decided to try again.
‘They said at the border that if I was pregnant and we showed documents proving we had three children, my husband would be allowed to leave. He refused.’
Halyna is worried about the baby. She is four months pregnant.
It’s easier in Ukraine, you go to the same doctor, he knows everything about you. But here, you go to the one who is available. Before he reads these cards... I didn’t really like it here.’
‘What about the conditions?
‘We have good conditions too. The only thing I preferred in Poland was that, after the birth, the baby is taken away for a while when the mother cannot look after it herself. In Ukraine, they give it to you right away. So someone has to be with you to help with the baby. Here, you can choose.’
Halyna’s husband arrived before the birth. He went to the commission. He has lost three fingers on his right hand, he is unsuitable for the army.
‘If I wasn’t in labour, he wouldn’t have come, he would have been helping our people.’
Now, he is with his family. He went to work. They don’t always want to take him because of those three fingers. He was working on Belgian blocks; then he was making house façades, now he repairs holes in plaster.
‘It’s difficult here with jobs for Ukrainians,’ says Halyna.
Vladik goes to a pre-school class, whereas she took Nazar from a Polish school, because it was difficult for him to adapt. He goes to a Ukrainian online school because they intend to return to Ukraine.
‘Our whole family has stayed there,’ explains Halyna.
In February, Halyna and her daughter went home for a few days. Her father-in-law has cancer and she wanted to show him the baby. Before leaving, Vladik cried:
‘Mum, what if there are bombs dropping? And you’re still carrying such a little Viki.’
‘Then I shall quickly return,’ promised Halyna.
‘Oh, good morning!’ The owner of the Mieszko hotel, Les Gondor, enters the room where we are talking. ‘What’s up?’ he looks at the child Halyna is holding in her arms. And he says to me: ‘This is a citizen of our hotel.’
‘We already have almost four teeth!’ boasts Halyna.
‘Oh dear... well, yes, she bites, she drools,’ notices Les.
‘I gave birth at 3 p.m. while Ania gave birth just before midnight. Ania was due on 30 August and I was due on 13 September. We laughed that we would give birth together. And this is what happened. We gave birth to our Victorias on the same day.
‘Victoria, meaning victory?’
‘Mine in honour of Ukraine’s victory.’
An album with thanks from refugees from Ukraine. The Serediuk family. Photo Krystyna Garbicz
I had heard about Anna earlier from the hotel owner. We talked about the war, looked through a commemorative album with thanks and wishes left by refugees. Les showed me the photos from his birthday, which he celebrated on 1 June. He organized a sweet treat for the children; they gave an hour-long concert of Ukrainian songs for him.
‘Here, we still need to add a photo of little Victoria,’ says Gondor as he shows three ID photos of the Serediuk family from Kolomyia, a town in western Ukraine. ‘And it needs to be foil-covered so it doesn’t get damaged. Someday, we shall come back to what we experienced here together. We already have friendship and even family bonds between us.’
Kevin, Les’s son, became godfather to the child of one of the hotel’s residents.
Today marks one year since Anna and her husband Dima, who has cerebral palsy, and 10-year-old Sashko came to Gorzów. Yesterday marked six months since Anna gave birth to her daughter. I guess it is because of this that there is a red rose on the dressing table in a plastic juice bottle in the Serediuks’ room.
The room looks like any family bedroom, where a baby has recently been born. Next to the bed, under the window, there is a white cot, on top of which tiny clothes in pastel colours are stacked. There are toys in the corners of the room. A brown carpet is covered with a children’s rug with letters and animals. This is where Victoria is trying to crawl. The rug is a gift from the residents of their fourth floor. On the other side of the door is the corridor, where the privacy ends.
Now, he is at school. The Polish one. When he comes back, he does his homework from the Ukrainian one. His parents don’t allow him to run around the corridors with the other children, they don’t want anyone to complain. So Sashko gets rid of his excess energy in extra sports activities.
‘We get money for him, so he should use it. We bought him a special outfit so he can exercise,’ explains Anna.
Anna is my confirmation of the stereotype of a Ukrainian woman, which I read about in the Ukrainian classics. She can be described as someone who has to be constantly working. She always asks at the reception if they need any help. Anna was one of the initiators of kitchen duty.
‘Let’s at least clean up after ourselves,’ she would say to the other hotel residents.
She was concerned about giving birth in Poland. She asks the girls for details, even though this is her third pregnancy. She lost her second child at 10 weeks. When she becomes pregnant for the third time, there is risk again. War. Escape. In Poland, she immediately looks for a doctor.
‘Where are you from?’
‘From the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast.’
‘What’s new there?’
‘It’s supposedly calm, but there were air raids at the airport...’
‘So if it’s calm, what are you doing here?’
Anna leaves. Her hands are shaking. She calls her mother-in-law and says she is going home. Her mother-in-law asks her to go and see a doctor privately. Later, however, Ania goes to the state one again, so that the birth is free of charge.
‘He looked at me like an ordinary village peasant and told me everything, he took a smear,’ Anna folds her forefinger and middle finger and makes a quick movement upwards, ‘sniffed it and says everything is fine, there is no inflammation. I would have puked.’
‘You’ve been examined,’ says Iryna, who gave birth after Anna. We laugh together.
‘Here, it says push on the door, “tolkat” in our language. When I see that word, I feel sick. At the hospital, the midwife was saying to me: push, push,’ recalls Iryna, when I ask if she understood everything during the birth.
‘The doctor says: “Oh, I can already see the black hair.” She pulled my leg to one side – it’s not coming, to the other side and, in a couple of minutes or so, the little one flew out,’ says Anna, gesturing with the baby in her arms.
She removes a red headband from Victoria’s head and gently strokes her daughter’s hair, into which she has rubbed oil. Mariya and Victoria ‘talk’ louder than us. They are giving interviews like their mothers.
Anna with her daughter Victoria in her room. Photo Krystyna Garbicz
‘Here, it’s not like at home, that if you pay, they fuss around you. I didn’t have any money, but I was treated on equal terms with the others.’
‘I’m not sure if Ukrainians would be able to receive Poles as well if the situation were reversed,’ says Iryna.
Like almost all the other children born in Mieszko, Victoria is not christened. Dima called the otets, namely the priest, in Ukraine to grant the family marriage and christen the first child.
‘There is a Russian-language and a Polish-language Orthodox church in Gorzów,’ says Dima.
‘Don’t go to the Russian-speaking one, it’s better to go to the Polish one,’ said the otets.
Anna has found some friends who could be the godmothers, but there is a problem with the godfather.
‘Who should we take to be the godparents? When we return, the child will be left without godparents,’ says Iryna. ‘On the other hand, this can be done without godparents. We christened our older daughter in the hospital straight after the birth, because the birth was overdue and there were problems. Then, after a few months, we had a proper ceremony. Now, our pal is on the front.’
‘My brother’s brigade left Bakhmut yesterday morning. The city is surrounded. They tried to get out for two nights in a row. The commander gave the order to evacuate at the last minute. Couldn’t they have left earlier, without so much loss of life, and then return with greater forces?’
‘Are they giving away Bakhmut?’ asks Iryna.
‘Do they have any choice?
They have endured so much, so many have already died there.
Les Gondor, owner of the Mieszko Hotel, and his daughter Oliwia, talk about the Ukrainian families who stayed with them. Photo Krystyna Garbicz
At breakfast, I sit down next to Iryna. She has come back from the school, which is near the hotel; she took her older 8-year-old daughter there. Iryna picks at her toast with her fingers and occasionally looks into the pram where Mariya is lying. She was five months old on 18 March.
‘What nappies! I’m due in October. I’ll give birth at home. I don’t need anything,’ thought Iryna when the Poles were bringing gifts to the hotel for the female refugees.
She came from Kamensky, a town in the east of Ukraine that had been Dniprodzerzhynsk for 80 years.
The war came as a surprise to her. She became less interested in the news since she became pregnant eight weeks earlier. Her husband, who works as a truck driver, was supposed to leave for a trip abroad on Saturday 26 February.
Iryna takes the hamster to her brother, the cat to her mother:
‘We’re pregnant, we’re leaving.’
First, they go to Lviv. They think that, since her husband works abroad, they will let him go. It turns out at the border that they were wrong. They return to Lviv. Iryna doesn’t want to leave without her husband.
In Lviv, she has an ultrasound examination. She felt unwell while travelling. Friends advise her to leave.
‘You can always return,’ they say. She went for two–three weeks, or at least that’s what everyone thought.
Time flies. The war is not ending.
‘I realized I would give birth in Poland.’
This is how the inhabitants of Gorzów refer to the area of leisure in the Square of the Unknown Soldier. Her favourite bench is in front of the fountain. While her older daughter is jumping in the playground, Iryna is thinking about the future. They are alone in Poland. She will see her husband in six months. He will manage to return to work. So when he’s not travelling, he spends time with the family. The women who are in Mieszko with their husbands look more carefree than those who are only with their children.
Iryna asks the women who have given birth here about childbirth. You don’t have to make a special appointment in Poland, or choose a doctor and you don’t have to take bags of things with you.
‘At the hospital, they laughed at our women who came to give birth with suitcases,’ says Iryna. ‘They give the necessary things there, nappies, even a hospital maternity gown. It doesn’t make any difference where people have come from.
I didn’t know that if you go to shower before giving birth, it will be easier to give birth. That’s what Anna, who had given birth earlier, told me. I went to shower at the hotel and then during the birth. I had never heard of anything like that in Ukraine. Now I understand why some women give birth in water.
In the initial months at Mieszko, Iryna agonizes over unrestrained vomiting during pregnancy. She cannot eat. Iwona, the owner’s wife, notices this. When she finds out that Iryna is pregnant, she cooks a different soup for her.
‘After giving birth, I came back to the hotel as if it were home,’ she says.
Iryna looks from side to side as she walks through the town. She is interested in the buildings, the streets, the history. She asks if they have any guided tours here. Ideally in Ukrainian.
She graduated with honours in thermal power engineering. However, she enjoyed doing manicures. Additionally, she liked drawing. She took second place in a manicurist contest in Ukraine. Now, she is learning Polish in Gorzów. She feels uncomfortable when she understands the language but cannot speak.
‘Have you been to the consulate to register the new Ukrainian citizen yet?’
‘No, I haven’t managed to do that yet. But she is a Ukrainian citizen even without that. I gave birth to a Ukrainian,’ she smiles. ‘I don’t need any other citizenship.’ Other women go to America or somewhere else so that the child has the citizenship of that country.
‘This doesn’t happen automatically in Poland.’
‘Les laughs that children born in an aeroplane are entitled to free flights for life, whereas our children are citizens of the hotel and will always have free accommodation here,’ Iryna smiles. ‘We received a Polish birth certificate. When we organize Mariya’s documents in Ukraine, there will already be translations. That will be her story.’
The support of donors has declined after a year of war, but the maintenance of the hotel has not. Hotel Mieszko is running a ‘Mieszko for Ukraine’ campaign. You can help via this link.
Jest dziennikarką, reporterką, „ambasadorką” Ukrainy w Polsce. Ukończyła studia dziennikarskie na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim. Pisała na portalu dla Ukraińców w Krakowie — UAinKraków.pl oraz do charkowskiego Gwara Media.
Jest dziennikarką, reporterką, „ambasadorką” Ukrainy w Polsce. Ukończyła studia dziennikarskie na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim. Pisała na portalu dla Ukraińców w Krakowie — UAinKraków.pl oraz do charkowskiego Gwara Media.