Quiet panic washes over Poland

“No one’s talking about it here but you know it’s on everyone’s mind,” says Lisanne Garbarek, who owns a home near Glogow.

‘It’ includes memories of the Cold War, which Mrs Garbarek says is collectively on the minds of the Polish people as evidenced by demands for passports surging, and military enlistments spiking.

Everything seemingly changed overnight when Russia invaded Ukraine in late February causing an influx of more than three million refugees, most of who are women and children.

Poland has taken the most refugees, greatly reducing its usual harsh border restrictions.

To many Poles, Russia appears to be on an expansionist path.

This could threaten Warsaw and drag the country into a broader conflict that could potentially have catastrophic consequences similar to the situation now faced by Ukraine.

Because of this, a feeling of disquiet is evident throughout the country, even as life appears to proceed as normal.

“We go about our day as normal, but with the increasing military presence and jets flying above, it’s hard to forget what’s happening,” Mrs Garbarek says.

Poland is both an established member of the European Union and an ally to the U.S.

With a population of 38 million citizens and boasting an advanced economy, it has close ties with the West, which it has used to obtain advanced military equipment and the deployment of American troops to help with border protection.

But the military presence can be daunting.

“I see and hear jets flying over my home – I’ve lived here all my life and this has only started recently.” Mrs Garbarek recalls.

She lives on the western side of Poland, close to the border with Germany.

“We are terrified.”

Many Poles have taken precautionary measures as the war continues.

Authorities are seeing a rise in new recruits for the Territorial Defence Force.

There was also a demand for shifts to increase in the days following the Ukrainian attack, with numerous Poles expressing a desire to defend their country.

Understanding the relationship between Poland and Russia

The history between Poland and Russia has long been a turbulent one, dating back to the middle ages.

There have been several Polish-Russian Wars, with Poland once occupying Moscow and Russia later controlling the majority of Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For years, Poland’s been one of the loudest voices in Europe warning about the threat posed by Russia.When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the Polish president met with other European leaders to warn Western allies about Moscow’s aggression.

“Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow—the Baltic States and later, perhaps, time will come for my country, Poland,” Lech Kaczyński, the former Polish president said in his speech.

“We are here to make sure the world makes an even more powerful response, including, in particular, the European Union and NATO.”

Unfortunately, at the time most allies disregarded his concern as outdated Cold War-era thinking.

Prior to the invasion, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin had plans to rebuild the Russian empire, and that Europe needed to unite.

Afterwards, the Minister publicly condemned Russia for invading Ukraine.

Since then tensions have only risen between the two countries, with Russia suspending gas exports and Poland increasing its military presence along the border with Ukraine.

Poland-Ukraine Relations

After Russia invaded, Poland set up many assembly points for refugees, and local authorities have been providing free shelter, food and other necessary supplies.

A number of Polish citizens and non-government organisations are also volunteering help.

At a summit in Warsaw, Morawiecki promised that Poland would do everything it could to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty.

“If its sovereignty is destroyed, European values will also be destroyed,” he said.

Ukrainian pins and flags can be seen everywhere in the country, serving as a silent reminder that Poland stands in solidarity with Ukraine.

Poland and the future of Europe

Forecasting the future of Poland is difficult.

How long will the war in Ukraine last, and how many people will be affected?

One thing is clear: any immigrants or refugees who come to Poland will be allowed stay, and the numbers will only increase as the invasion drags on.

Right now, Poland is the strongest part of the chain linking the West with Ukraine.

It has become a logistical hub for supplying weapons, armour and ammunition to the western part of Ukraine, which Russia has yet to occupy.

As the war continues many in Poland continue to share what they have with their neighbours.

The refugees there are seen as freedom fighters.

“We are brothers and sisters,” Mrs Garbarek says.

“The only way to get through this is together.”