Interview III: Anastasiia
Anastasiia, 28, studied Philosophy in Lviv and came to Wrocław in 2012 for her MA in Social Communication. At the moment she is working in the IT Logistics sector in an American corporation.
- To open the topic – statistics say that meanwhile Ukrainians make 10% of Wrocław’s population. What makes people come here, to Western Poland?
- When I came here 6 years ago it was much less. But then the economical and political situation in Ukraine became tougher and tougher, so people started to look for new ways to survive – a very logical process. People always go to places they know or that someone recommended, also there are historical and cultural connections between Ukraine and
- Is there a strong Ukrainian community or network in Poland?
- I wouldn’t say there is a specific community – by the way, in terms of social sciences, here this notion rather applies to the lower social classes of Ukrainian migrants. You can, however, see three completely different groups: there are workers on the one hand, then students and young people that want to build their lives and find their place in Polish society. And thirdly, in Wrocław, with all its globally operating corporations, there has developed an
international “expat” community.
- There used to be places in Wrocław where Ukrainian migrants had their gatherings and 40 or 50% of all of them used these offers. Now there are still some institutions and foundations that support Ukrainians in social life or organise events, e.g. the foundation CUKR, or groups that help in bureaucratic issues. However, I’m not sure if they are still working as they used to. Since the number of people growed so intensively, there are on the one hand more “Ukrainian” places, but on the other they do not really play a uniting role anymore.
- What were the biggest obstacles for you to create a new life here?
- Since I am from Ukraine, language was not really a challenge for me. Of course, there were some misunderstandings etc., as always when you are abroad with a different culture and language. I left Ukraine when I was 22, so as a quite adult person with an understanding of
how certain things go, of my responsibilities. And then, suddenly, I was in a completely different society and had to re-learn how to be a functional part of it, how to deal with official papers and all the formal issues. In Ukraine, I was something like a smart person holding a Master of Philosophy and also my language would demark me as such. Here, even though I was able to speak Polish quite well at some point, it wasn’t the “Master-of-Philosophy-Polish”. The same when people were talking – for a long time I couldn’t get many contexts. In these situations, I felt alien.
- How has the situation changed for Ukrainian migrants in the meantime and how does the Polish state deal with it?
- Recently many things have changed, especially for Ukrainians. For example, legalisation of residence is a painful topic because the Polish authorities cannot hold the huge number of requests. Strangely enough, it has been like this for the last two years or more – and still everybody seems surprised by the queues and the excessive demands. That’s strange and problematic because you cannot influence the procedure with your actions, or institution of
social support. You are at the mercy of the state, as in Kafkas “The trial”. This is what I am facing now, but it’s alright. The requirements are managable and, if you know the language, there is no bigger problem.
- In her book Polish-German author Emilia Smechowski calls her generation of Poles that moved to Germany in the 1980s “nerd migrants”, whose first priority was to assimilate in Germany and therefore become invisible as Poles. Do you see any parallels in the Ukrainian-Polish context today?
- Actually, I am slightly confused by this thesis. I guess it is just normal to build your life and develop your personal growth at a new place. Also, Ukrainians are very visible in Wrocław and everybody is aware of Ukrainians being here, I barely know people who are afraid to
speak Ukrainian in public. They are supported from a lot of sides, by the city government as well. Maybe there is a social problem when Ukrainians are seen as the “others”, but I think times have changed since the 1980s. Of course, there are some parallels because migrants always go through similar life situations, but I would not say it is now this social phenomenon the author describes.
- When was the last time you traveled to Lviv? How did you experience coming back there?
- Lately I went to Lviv for a jazz festival. I noticed that after some time in Wrocław I had become used to the “European life” with its better infrastrucures etc., so coming back to Lviv felt like making a step back. Sometimes when I went to Ukraine, I immediately started to take
all things negatively – it is a strange experience to face again something that you passed through already. However, I am now trying to put beside all those negative perceptions and concentrate on my positive experiences instead.
- Being from Ukraine, meaning non-Polish – is this somehow framing your identity?
- I was a non-Ukrainian in Ukraine, so being non-Polish in Poland is nothing new for me. Ukraine is a part of the big “Soviet Union monster”, there are Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish
backgrounds etc. I remember that each member of my family had different national identifications, all were related historically to our family. It was more about sharing values
than trying to define our identity. Poland is rather ethnically homogeneous. In terms of identity my background gives me some freedom, a freedom that is more typical for
Ukrainians than for Poles. For them, nationality is something like an ideal construct. Of course, some far right nationalists are everywhere, but somehow my friends from Germany, Czech Republic or Spain seem to be much more flexible in this issue than Polish people. On
the other hand, I know some who grew up abroad, and for them identity is not such a simple thing. For example, when I uncovered to a friend from France that I am Jewish, she said she is originally from Poland and this means she is Jewish as well.
- Emilia Smechowski says, she was not allowed to speak Polish in Germany anymore, as this was seen as an appropriate way to integrate faster. Is there a similar trend, to “give up” Ukrainian?
- This makes me think of a current educational topic in Wrocław; there are pre-schools for Ukrainian children where they teach and communicate in Ukrainian language only. I consider that a bad idea because those kids will stay here for school, study here etc. Not hearing Polish at all, they will face a shock at some point. At the same time there are pre-schools where the kids speak only English. People can choose between many different options in Wrocław nowadays.
- Do you think there’s a big difference between Wrocław and the surrounding areas when it comes to integration of Ukrainians into society?
- Yes of course. Wrocław has a different social system and is more heterogeneous as smaller cities around here, like e.g. Wałbrzych. These towns work much more traditional. For me it would be interesting to find out how Ukrainians over there feel, what is their integration into society alike. Anyway, the differences are not only between bigger cities and the countryside, they also exist between people living here in Wrocław. You should definitely ask also blue-collar workers or elder people about their experiences as Ukrainians in Poland. I guess you will find completely different perceptions …
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