Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland
f you begin your visit to Poland from Warsaw Central Station, you may think you’ve found yourself in a western European metropolis, no different from Paris or London. Here, you can buy sushi rolls and a kale bioshake — a lunch fitting for the ride to Berlin on the hipster-filled Friday train. On the platforms, white-collar workers await their trains. When panic over air pollution gripped the city, they switched from SUVs to public transport.
A few kilometres away lies Warsaw West bus station, and here it’s a different world. You can’t find any kale in this dirty pavilion that saw its last renovation under communism — instead there’s sausage with ketchup and second hand clothes. Tired faces descend from ramshackle buses: Poles coming home from Germany, Austria and Belgium; Ukrainians arriving in Poland. For many of the latter, Warsaw West is their first encounter with the “Europe” of which they dreamt.
Poland, a country of 38 million (counting citizens without guest workers), is already home to over one million Ukrainians. Most of them decided to emigrate after military conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine in 2014, when the currency value of the Ukrainian hryvnia plummeted and prices rose.
After the populist right party Prawo i Sprawiedliwości (Law and Justice) came to power in 2015, the Polish-Ukrainian relationship deteriorated and public opinion polls show a rise in xenophobic attitudes. Despite this, Poland, due to its migration policy’s preferences for nationals from the former USSR and its cultural and linguistic similarity, is still an attractive destination for Ukrainians.