You Are Not Alone, Ukraine

23 March 2022

“The tyrant will not bring us to our knees, he will not enslave our souls today,” sing Sofia and Alona. Recorded at the Groteska Theatre, the song is a perfect expression of what we are feeling here in Kraków. The city has become a safe haven for refugees and stands by them in their pain, anger and hope.

Marek Mikos
Kraków Culture – Karnet

Kraków abounds with Ukrainian people, and it’s usually impossible to tell the refugees from those who made the city their home a long time ago. Before Russia’s invasion, Kraków’s Ukrainian population was around 60,000, and now the number is over 160,000. Many gather at the railway station as they change trains; they ask us for directions, how to pay for parking or where to find the nearest pharmacy.

Since the start of the war a month ago, many Cracovians have spontaneously invited refugees into their homes. What happens next? No-one knows. So far people have been sharing stories – many tragic but also some amusing ones. Gutek has welcomed a family of four to his small flat – a grandmother, mum and two girls. The grandmother drove them from Dnipro for five days with almost no breaks. They made it. Now the older girl chats with friends back home or elsewhere in Poland, and her little sister draws and places her colourful offerings at the hosts’ bedroom door. Krzysztof has a fairly big house and was happy to invite four people. As it happened, he ended up hosting seven and a bonus two pet rats. They’ve left now, for somewhere else in Poland or perhaps Germany.

Between pathos and daily reality
When a country invades another and the numbers of war victims grow every day, pathos and symbolic actions are natural. They pay homage to and express solidarity with heroic defenders of freedom. Filled with pathos in spite of its simplicity, the song A Prayer for Ukraine has been written at the Groteska Theatre and is performed in Polish and Ukrainian with English subtitles; you can watch it on the theatre’s website. The song was written very quickly, with the Polish artist Małgorzata Zwolińska penning the lyrics. The text was sent to L’viv where Olga Tkachenko translated it into Ukrainian in a bomb shelter during air raids. When finished Prayer returned to Poland, it was recorded by Alona Szostak and Sofia Popowa. They sing,
Fight for freedom, Ukraine
Because you are not alone in your pain
The tyrant will not bring us to our knees
May the killing time
End now

The pathos of the song, set to the tune of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina, is made all the more powerful by the simplicity of the performance. There are also no traces of hatred – the Prayer is elevated “through tears and pain”. The choice of singers was also no accident: Alona’s mother was Russian and her father Ukrainian; Sofia’s parents are Ukrainian with Russian roots.

The power of goodwill
Still, life goes on. Difficult times are made easier through gestures of solidarity, whether spectacular or modest. Concerts, recitations, exhibitions, film screenings, the Ukrainian anthem resounding from the Basilica of St. Mary in place of the traditional hejnał, the ringing of the long-silent bell at the Town Hall Tower, Ukrainian flags flown from buildings, blue-and-yellow ribbons and badges.

But of course expressions of solidarity aren’t just symbolic. Help comes from municipal, regional and non-governmental institutions. As well as providing accommodation, all necessary supplies and assistance in finding work, they hold workshops, meetings and Polish language courses. On Saturday 19 March, ICE Kraków hosted a family picnic Good Morning, Ukraine, with around five thousand participants from Poland and Ukraine joining in the fun for many hours!

It is abundantly clear that all these actions haven’t been one-off gestures. During the weeks since the invasion, we have seen countless new initiatives and suggestions for supporting Ukraine, while donations aren’t slowing down and volunteers are working tirelessly.

We hope this continues until freedom prevails, and we join Alona and Sofia in their prayers.

In dark moments, remember the words of the song:
I live in hope and share my strength against evil
And this war
I want to believe
That evil, evil will not destroy us.

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