My bus journey from Lviv to Lublin in Poland today was a bit ridiculous. It took nine hours for a 200 kilometre trip, which I thought was rather slow-going; until I realised that five of those nine hours would be spent at the border. The entire process was intensely agonising. The Ukrainian border officials weren’t too bad; they detained us for half an hour or so. Various sorts of soldiers got on the bus and asked us for our documents. That was fine; but I realised immediately a problem where I was concerned.
There is a well known rule amongst the rarefied class of strange people who pass in and out of conflict zones and are trained to do so: given a choice, always go for the older, male border guards, who tend not to give a damn if your documents are suspicious or peculiar. They know the cast iron rule that they don’t want to know; and as soon as they see something difficult or unusual, they just stamp your papers and send you on your way. They don’t want to ask questions, because that might result in their having to answer questions to their superiors. They have enough gritty experience, learned the hard way, to appreciate that a complicated case is one that is best ducked. By contrast their antithesis is the young female border guard, who thinks it is all very important to comply with the rules and check everything very carefully and she has not yet learned the blunt realities of life that this is something you should avoid because people with strange and unusual papers are probably strange and unusual and it is better that you avoid them.
Thankfully when passing through Ukrainian military checkpoints and border controls looking like a military nutter, with various military fatigues and other silly items to my person, I carry a lot of random and unusual pieces of official-looking paper. This is why God invented lawyers: to create pieces of paper to satisfy the more inquisitive of border guards, and I have hired one of those and he is extremely good at creating pieces of paper. So when the young female border guard got on the bus and obviously thought, given my quasi-military attire, that I was a military deserter, I had a file full of documents to provide her with. They all looked very official and the problem was solved there and then. After that all the bus passengers had to disembark and present their luggage for inspection by a large and long-tongued Alsatian; but he seemed a friendly sort of animal and there were no problems. Presumably his nose was attuned for explosives and ammunition and he did not find any, and we were all sent upon our way without problems.
However the Polish border controls proved a little more taxing. It turned out that they were spending two and a half hours per bus checking this and that, and the whole thing became quite involved. I was asked a series of questions. “Have you been fighting with the military?” This is a silly question; the obvious answer is “no” and any other answer would be highly contra-indicated. Then I was asked “do you have any guns, ammunitions or explosives on you?”. Again the obvious answer is “no”. Nevertheless we had to do both an x-ray and a search of my bags to establish the obvious. The Polish authorities were polite and I thanked them and they thanked me and it was all just fine. Nevertheless the lady who was exporting her pet dog to Poland from Ukraine with a series of dubious Ukrainian veterinary papers threatened to hold us all up. In the end the Polish authorities let her and her dog through too.
My travelling companion for this journey was a pleasant, charming and educated Ukrainian lady from Irpin, who could no longer tolerate the stress and anxiety involved in living in the shadow of the air defence guns and the constant attacks upon Kyiv. She had been through enough and her husband had advised her to seek refugee status and my country, the United Kingdom, had been honourable and decent enough to accept her. So tomorrow she flies from Warsaw to England to begin a new life. I contemplate how brave she is in stepping into the unknown. I promised her that both I and my family will stand ready to help her in the event that she runs into any difficulties once in England, and I know that we will stand true to our word. God bless this lady who shows such courage and heroism in such benighted conditions.
I arrived in Lublin, having been sold a duff Polish SIM card at the border by some quasi-criminals. The quality of the data coverage was terrible, and this sales pitch was designed to rip off vulnerable Ukrainians fleeing conflict: something I realised that my Ukrainian fellow travellers on the bus realised when I saw that I was the only person buying one of these bad SIM cards. I will toss it out tomorrow. It is unpleasant to see people trying to take advantage of refugees fleeing war in such cheap and trivial ways. It makes no substantial difference to me; I lost only 15 Zlotys; but I was unimpressed by the cynical attitudes of the people peddling rubbish to desperate people at the Ukrainian borders.
I am staying in a pleasant hotel in a historical building in central Lublin. The Ukrainian consulate is only five minutes’ walk away, and tomorrow I will stroll there and present my papers to continue my works in Ukraine and I will see how I get on. I don’t think it will be a problem; my lawyer is meticulous and a perfectionist and I admire that in fellow lawyers. He knows what he is doing and I have confidence in him. And then I found myself some bar, just obliquely opposite the consulate, to sink a few beers after my day both boring and stressful sat on some ugly old bus enduring these frightful borders. The company was somewhat less than agreeable. A man approached me speaking perfect English, and he told me “I know you think we are fascists for rejecting Ukrainians, and I am not racist”, and on he went. I told him nothing. He was expressing his own sense of guilt for hostile reactions to the Ukrainian refugee exodus.
I say to the Poles this: you must be tolerant, and I know that the vast majority of you are. I know that Polish farmers and those engaged in the agricultural business, which represents a substantial proportion of the Polish economy, are concerned by the prospect of Ukrainian agricultural exports without tariffs into the European Union undercutting Polish agricultural profits. But you must not reject your fellow Ukrainians in consequence of your fears; because we are fighting Russia. The Russian threat is far greater than the short-term impact upon agricultural profit margins as a result of the free market treatment now being afforded to Ukrainian profit margins in the European Union. One reason for the substantial delays at the Polish-Ukrainian border is a more or less informal blockade of Ukrainian heavy goods vehicles entering Poland with agricultural cargoes that might undermine the Polish farming sector.
The solution to this is negotiation with Brussels, to subsidise Polish agriculture to the extent necessary to take away the pain while Ukraine is integrated into the European Union free market. But undertake these negotiations in good faith. Do not talk of fascism or hatred of your fellow Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are fighting and dying so that the Poles do not again fall under the Russian yoke as they did between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainians deserve to be treated as heroes by the Poles, a massive military reserve protecting Eastern Europe from Vladimir Putin’s renewed concept of Russian-Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Europe will find funds to make Poland good as equitably as we can. Just don’t screw up the borders that serve as arteries for the exodus of suffering refugees in the meantime.
I returned to my hotel. The receptionist, Ukrainian, seeing my Anglo-Ukrainian flag patches on my jacket, smiled as she opened the door for me. I greeted her with the timeless phrase of Ukrainian patriotism, Slava Ukraini! As she unlocked the door with her glorious and welcoming grin, she replied, Heroyam Slava!