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Ukraine War: A Story of Survival, Sacrifice, and Service

A Peek into one of many White Crow Books

If charitable service to those in need is the ultimate in spirituality here in the physical life, this book most certainly deals with spiritual matters. The author, Amber Poole, an American woman and her husband, Paul, from Scotland but with Polish roots, operated an educational center in Poland when the Russians attacked Ukraine in 2022.  As many Ukrainians fled to Poland, they turned their center into a home for as many as 40 refugees.  The author kept a very interesting “war diary” over the first 18 months of the war, discussing everything from the cultural adjustments required by both the Polish and the Ukrainians to her own reactions and adjustments, as well as philosophical concerns and conflicts that often surfaced.  In spite of the adversity and distress, she embraced the adversity.

ukraine

“Despite the experts, Amber and I expected that war would break out,” Paul states in the prologue, going on to explain that both he and Amber (top photo) are students of C. G Jung’s depth psychology and had little warning signals that war was about to come. “This was just something we had to do,” he says of taking in the refugees, adding that it almost felt like family business since his family had endured much during the German occupation of Poland during World War II.

Initially, they took in six families, including a pregnant woman, two teenagers, and four children, There were no men, only women and children. The daily routine for the women included raking leaves, cooking, keeping the fireplaces stocked and burning, getting the children off to school and cleaning “with a formidable commitment.” Some of the older women rarely came out of their rooms. Some took employment at a nearby sewing factory. Paul was usually driving someone to school, work, the store, or to the doctor, where there was usually a long line and wait.

“One wakes up in the morning to people who need something,” Amber explains. “There is always a need, usually multiple ones. Paul gets by well because he speaks serviceable Russian. I speak kitchen Polish at best. When he is around, things go more smoothly since most guests communicate in Russian but there are those who will only speak Ukrainian, which is difficult for either of us to understand….One woman told me that if I could say only one word in their language, it would be ‘borscht,’ not soup, but borscht. This is the defining word when remembering the Ukrainians, when beginning to understand who they are,” Amber penned in her diary, adding that they make it like a 15th Century alchemist.

Not all of their friends and neighbors agreed with the hospitality being offered by Amber and Paul. Some of the criticism came from people whom they had least expected contempt. “It is true that no country is prepared to accept upward of two-million people overnight, without a plan in place and no country that I know of has one,” Amber lamented. She mentions that most landlords across Poland do not rent to Ukrainians because of the obvious uncertainties relative to payment and the long term. “The question of sacrifice is invariably the first obstacle one encounters or the self-serving viewpoint of ‘what’s in it for me’ ‘can’t be bothered’ and this I fear is leading us down a dead-end road,” Amber sums it up.

A 22-year-old woman was especially troubled. Her boyfriend had abandoned her and indications were that she was about to be lured into a human trafficking network. “There is quite a misconception among the young that everyone else has their life in order, everyone except them,” Amber opined from the story of this woman. “What I did tell her, is that most people on the planet are besieged by internal chaos. She is not alone.”

Three months into the war, there were, counting themselves, “Forty-two unique individuals with their own calling, their own suffering, dreams ailments, complexes, shadow, complaints, and projections in daily motion.” Included were an artist, a musician, a financial planner, a teacher or two, and Olesya, a six-year-old chess champion who “beat the socks off Paul.” (bottom photo) . She is described as having impeccable manners, never boasts over her victories, makes direct eye contact when speaking, seems to be studying people all the time, is confident, and doesn’t run from anything.

How did they all get there? “As I see it,” Amber mused, “our civilization has put itself at the top of the food chain and thus set off a catastrophic state of affairs leading to acute narcissism, consumerism, restlessness, hyper-anxiety, melodrama, and obsessive rationalization, to name a few symptoms. We live in a world that seeks to intellectualize fairy tales. Ritual is awkward for us and we don’t understand what it means to live a symbolic life.”

In an entry for May 20, 2022, Amber wrote: “I am afraid for Ukraine. I am afraid their borders will disappear and they will have to go on the run for years to come, holding onto their language, their folk art, and their borscht.” -- MET

Sunflowers at my Table: War Diaries of a Ukrainian Community by Amber Poole is published by White Crow Books

 

 
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