The trains from Kramatorsk.

Sit around Lviv train station long enough, watch and talk to the river of those spilling out of carriage after carriage, train after train, and a simple question, where have you come from, is all that is needed for that river to engulf you with its shock. Just shock: there is hardly a moment for anyone, it feels, to process the events enough for any despair to settle in. Ask that same question, carriage after carriage, train after train, and the answer is always the same. Kramatorsk, Kramatorsk, Kramatorsk. For the ignorant westerner their repetitive answer is a crash course in the geography of horrors. For them, for now, there is only the shock of what happened, the shock in face of the incomprehensible and inconceivable that is now upon them.

Together with those who can, but do not quite yet speak of the horrors they bore witness to arrive those who also bore witness to that same sheer brutality of the human race. Their presence, alone, the fact that people decided to take their animal companions with them in their fleeting moment, is the absolute if maybe unuttered realisation that this is not a temporary journey, and that it might be long, too long, too very long before a baffled westerner sits at the Kramatorsk platform, pats their dog and asks: where have you come from?

You live and you die in numbers.

Just north of Krakow’s old town enclave lies a small stretch of freeway that connects the historic city’s ring road to the country’s national highway network further up north. To the freeway’s one side lie a series of shiny, newly built apartments. Directly opposite lies Rakowicki cemetery, one of the city’s oldest. The peace and quiet secured by the latter,I guess, must have also been a selling point for the former: that, perhaps, together with the advantage of vantage offered by the relatively unobstructed views that presumably come with neighbouring a site that no longer competes for height. And yet there is something that feels even more striking in this otherwise blissfully sunny day here in this fifteen-century old city. Sure, we are born, live and die alone: but we do so in great numbers, we do so, we do both next to and on top of one another. All that separates the shiny apartment complex from the cemetery is a hop along that freeway: a nearly too obvious metaphor for the splinter of a second that our lives last in the grand scheme of things. Here in Krakow, life goes on. As it would be, and perhaps as it should be. It goes on. Yes, there are easily more Ukrainian than Polish flags on display (I counted). Yellow and blue flags sticking out of barber shops, out of municipal buildings, out of bike repair shops and apartments. And yes, the acts of solidarity are everywhere, from the wall murals to the mass meals and clothes distribution sites, to the stories of people and businesses taking the newcomers under new roofs. People are aware, of course. How could they not be? They are opening their homes, they are outpouring solidarity. But they also know that they must go on, that life must go on until the moment it no longer does so (…) Soon enough, it becomes very easy to discern the refugees on the streets of Krakow. They are often in small groups, four, five or six of them, children and women always, men never. There are other hints: a bag carrying a sleeping bag or a moment of being lost at a junction, a fleeting pause in a life that goes on until it no longer does so.

A mother chases her son under a billboard advertising a government-sponsored aid programme for Ukraine. Krakow, March 22, 2022.
Two young Polish soldiers strolling in park. Krakow, March 22, 2022.
Two women walk past a slogan reading “be gay, do crime”, defacing a homophobic slogan. Krakow, March 22, 2022.
Woman walking past wall mural reading “Glory to Ukraine”. Krakow, March 22, 2022.
Three young girls and an older woman pose as they wait outside the Ukrainian Consulate. Krakow, March 22, 2022.

War happens.

This website was meant to undergo some major reconstruction at some point or another, comfortable and confident in that there is always time to make an adjustment, to add or to remove something, to make that final tweak. And then, war happened. That perennial reminder that life doesn’t always go on, that there are moments in history that divide it into a before and an after, Rubicon moments that cannot be uncrossed. Anyhow, this is a now incomplete. And what will follow are some scattered thoughts and reports from the Polish-Ukrainian border.