Dispatch from Poland: Ilona Kwiecien – A ‘strange’ world with ‘people of good will’

  • An introductory slide at the concert in Lublin. PHOTO BY ILONA KWIECIEN

  • Ilona Kwiecien COURTESY PHOTO

Published: 11/17/2022 10:34:04 AM

“Strange is this world” is the title of a very popular Polish song from the 1970s sung by Czeslaw Niemen. Where am I going with this, you may ask?

At the end of October, I went back to Poland for two weeks to reconnect with the individuals and organizations we have been supporting thanks to ongoing donations to First Church in Jaffrey’s Refugee Support Fund. On my last night in Lublin, I – through a “strange” series of coincidences – ended up going to a concert at one of the city’s universities. The two-hour show consisted of performances by Ukrainian refugees who had ended up in Lublin. It was their way of saying “thank you” to the city.

Personal stories were intermingled with poetry readings, folk and popular songs in both Ukrainian and Polish, dance, violin and accordion solos and two Ukrainian rock bands. One story was about a woman and her daughter who had to quickly run out of their home, which was ultimately destroyed. The mother told the daughter she had to just take one thing; she chose her violin, which she played that evening. “Strange is this World” was sung by a young woman with an amazing voice. There were numerous shout outs of “Long live Polish-Ukrainian friendship!” To say the evening was moving would be the understatement of the year.

The translated lyrics of the song go:

“Oh, strange is this world

Well, still it seems

There’s so far so much evil

And strange it is that since long ago

Man despises man.

Oh, strange this world

Of human affairs

Sometimes I’m ashamed to be in it

Oh, so often a man can kill

With a bad word or still a knife.

But most people are of good will

I – thanks to them – believe

That this world should never, never die

And now, the time has come

The final time for hatred, for hatred

To destroy itself.”

We can all, no doubt, point to the evil that exists, the war in Ukraine being horrific. But in this and following pieces, I would like to focus on the last verse and some of the “people of good will” I encountered.

On my first full day, Marcin (my driver and “team member”) and I went to “Dom Matki” in Warsaw (home to about 48 Ukrainian women with small children) to speak with its director, Anna. The gates to the compound were opened for us by “two people of good will” from Jaffrey, Steve and Pauline Brackett. “Strange,” you might think! It’s a small world! Before they went to Poland, they had asked whether there was a place they might volunteer. Via connections made during previous trips, we were able to steer them to “Dom Matki,” where they ended up helping in various ways for several days. Anna couldn’t say enough about how much they were appreciated.

Anna herself is a remarkable young woman who had her 2-year old son with her in her small office where that day she was dealing with multiple Polish bureaucratic requirements for a nonprofit. Anna was grateful for our donation and insisted on providing a receipt.

She didn’t mind all the work, she said, because she considered this place her family and was totally committed to doing everything possible to ease the lives of these refugees. She was on top of every story, of various needs, of keeping good relations with surrounding neighbors. We couldn’t help but notice that a lot of work had been done to organize and clean up the compound. She looked forward to two new babies expected “any day” and told us that though they might be full, they would never turn anyone away. Her husband, she said with a smile, told her she should move her bed there.

They are cooking their own meals now, provide Polish lessons three times a week, and are working to help the mothers get a fresh start. Some have moved on to other EU countries, and one “success” story is that of three mothers who were able to find jobs and apartment, with one of the mothers staying home to watch the children.

“I realized material things are not important. What is inside is.” So summarized one young woman who shared her story at the concert.

She escaped from bombing with just her backpack. “Strange is this world” and thank goodness for “people of good will” who realize the truth of that statement and do what they can, often despite their own struggles. A common theme this time in Poland with everyone I spoke with was that the level of support has dwindled and groups and individuals are having to scramble. This is understandable, not only in Poland but elsewhere, given “aid fatigue,” making ends meet with high inflation, concerns over fuel and heating for winter, and so on.

And in Poland, there is a great deal of worry as to what Russia might do next. Indeed, two firemen told me they recently had undergone special training in case of a “radioactive” event. They now had iodine pills on hand. And yet, like Niemen and those at the concert, we can hold on to “most people are of goodwill.” In the next installment, there will be more stories about such people in Lublin and Zamosc.

If you are moved to donate, you can make checks out to The First Church in Jaffrey, with “refugee support” in the memo line. Send to the church at P.O. Box 673, Jaffrey, NH 03452.

Ilona Kwiecien is a Jaffrey resident whose parents were Polish refugees after World War II. Her last Army assignment before retiring in 1998 was as Army attaché in Kyiv for 2 1/2 years. She arrived in Poland March 21 to help refugees displaced by Russia’s war in Ukraine, returning to Jaffrey April 14. She went back to Poland for during the summer and again in October.


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