Interview I: Mariya
Mariya, 24, student of Philosophy in Lviv, moved to Wrocław in 2014 for her MA studies.
- Official statistics state that 10% of the city’s population is now of Ukrainian origin, so quite a lot. What makes people come here, to Western Poland?
- The reasons are simple: they are looking for a better life with better working conditions. Another reason is the current political situation in Ukraine. However, Poland is not the best place to hide from Ukrainian problems, because the problems in politics here are even worse for Ukrainians than in Ukraine. There, you can express yourself and your opinion more freely than in Poland. There is no political escape, because of oppression. Most reasons are related to the economic situation in the country.
- Why did you decide to come to Poland?
- In my case it was curiosity. I came here because of the European education. In Wrocław there is a special program for students coming from Eastern Europe which pays for your studies, it is called “Teraz Wrocław” (Now Wrocław). I neither considered myself an immigrant, nor did I escape from anything.
- How did your arrival look like? Where did you made the first contacts?
- I learned about this program from a friend, Nastja, she was also the first contact I had here. I stayed at her place before I moved to a dormitory. Then I met my collegues from university and more and more people. It developed somehow.
- Is there a strong community-building of Ukrainians, are there Ukrainian networks?
- There are places and communities for Ukrainians in Poland like “CUKR” (Centrum Ukraińskie Kultury i Rozwoju), or the Greek Catholic Church. Neither there is a Ukrainian Institute nor a strong network. I got much support by Ukrainians in daily life, e.g. in finding an apartment. So, there is kind of a network but it is not very vivid. What we do have is solidarity with other Ukrainians who come here.
- What were or still are the biggest obstacles to create a new life for yourself?
- Moving to Poland also meant moving out from my parents. There were some obstacles that were connected with becoming an adult. I barely had difficulties with the language, it was easy for me to communicate because I was never afraid of speaking in a foreign language. When I moved here, my Polish was worse than it is now. In the beginning some of my Polish colleges even had difficulties to understand me properly because my Polish was very mixed with Ukrainian words.
- Did you have bureaucratic and legal hurdles?
- I had a hard experience when it comes to bureaucracy and migration policy here: last year in February I was deported back to Ukraine. All because of one document that should be signed by the employer of the corporation I was working for. The official employer stayed in US, had no idea about my existence and there was no way that he came in person to take care of my documents. In this case one needs an additional document for people from “Human Resources” to act on the behalf of the employer, I didn't know about that and just trusted “HR”.
- My documents weren't accepted because of this one missing document. I was expelled from work and “illegal” from that time. I didn't know what I was going to do and when I had to leave Poland. That was a tough period for me.
- How long did you have to stay in Ukraine?
- Half a year. I am going to receive my documents in a few weeks. Now my residence is confirmed.
- How did you experience the Polish state dealing with your case?
- The most difficult thing was that I had no trusted source of information. I was called to different institutions, all of them telling different things. I found out that this situation is quite common and happens sometimes. You are not rejected by the government, but neither you are accepted. I had two exhausting weeks until I found out how to get back to Poland and to find sources of true information.
- The Polish-German author Emilia Smechowski calls herself – speaking for Poles that came to Germany in the 1980s – “Turbo-Germans”. According to her, they have not integrated but assimilated, only building their careers and finally being invisible as migrants in Germany. Can you see parallels here to the Ukrainians coming to Poland since few years?
- In my experience, I am not treated as an immigrant. When I talk to people they cannot say at once that I am from Ukraine or that I am not Polish. I have many Polish friends and know more about Polish culture than about the Ukrainian one because my interest for it has developed here. When I came here, I felt a bit like a stranger because of differences in mentality. I don't feel that anymore, I am closer to the Polish mentality now. Especially the city of Wrocław fits to me very well. I would never live in any other Polish city. It was not moving to Poland but moving to Wrocław. I know that there are many people who work in construction, as cleaners or cooks. They are less active and don't have the intention to be part of a Polish city society. They stay close to the Ukrainian people they know, they aren’t interested in learning the Polish language or watching Polish movies. They come here for a certain time, just to work and receive money. It depends on one’s motivation to integrate or not.
- Do you miss showing yourself as Ukrainian? Is this something you think about at all?
- I became quite nostalgic before living in Lviv again. I felt misunderstood in Poland and had a lack of closer relations. I thought back then, that I will never be as close with my Polish friends as with Ukrainians. But when I moved to Lviv, I noticed that Lviv is too chaotic for me and Wrocław can be my new home, where I feel more comfortable. I do love my family, I love my city and my country, but I don't feel like living in my hometown again right now.
- What is the strongest part of your identity at the moment? Are there other frames that are more important to you than your nationality?
- It's difficult to say what is most important because all my experiences build up my identity. Due to all the background I received I considered myself as Ukrainian. I cannot say which part of me is now the strongest for my identity … I also don't feel any need to define identity.
- Did the situation of moving to Poland change anything in thinking about identity?
- I never felt that being Ukrainian is something I need to emphasise. It’s just my “essence”. I think it did not change on a big scale. However, I had this typical natural pattern when I came to this other country and compared it unconsciously with my country all the time. I had developed some social schemes for how to get to know people, but these schemes did not work here anymore, so I felt very lost and weird. It just took time to understand how everything works here, to understand the people. I do not feel this pain of not understanding Polish people anymore.
- What are you doing currently? Do you have any plans for the future?
- I am working and do not plan to do anything directly related to Philosophy. I have some ideas what to do in the future, maybe even to move to another country, but for now I am happy to live in Wrocław. It is always exhausting to start something new. It is a good place for me here. There are good possibilities.
Thank you for the interview!
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