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Deadly missile launch adds to Ukraine war fears in Poland

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PRZEWODOW, Poland – Since invading Ukraine more than eight months ago, Poland has helped the neighboring country and millions of its refugees – both to ease their suffering and to prevent war from spreading in the rest of Europe.

But a missile strike that killed two men on Tuesday in a Polish village near the Ukrainian border brought the conflict home and added to a long-suppressed sense of vulnerability in a country where the ravages of World War II are well known.

“The thing I dread most in life is war. I never want to experience that,” said Anna Grabinska, a Warsaw woman who helped a Ukrainian mother of two young children.

One of the men killed in Przewodow was actively helping Ukrainian refugees who had taken refuge in the area.

NATO and Polish leaders say the missile was most likely fired by Ukraine to defend against a Russian attack.

Now reeling, Poles fear for their future and political commentators warn that the strike should not harm relations with Ukraine, which have recently grown closer thanks to Polish solidarity.

“There is fear, anxiety for what will happen next night or the next day,” villager Kinga Kancir said.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, millions of Poles gave up what they were doing to help. They took time off from work and rushed to the border to offer strangers rides in their cars and places in their homes. They stood in the cold and served soup. Polish mothers left pushchairs at a train station on the border for runaway Ukrainian mothers they would never meet.

The people acted out of humanitarian impulse, but their generosity was also a conscious contribution to the Ukrainian war effort. By ensuring the safety of Ukrainian women and children, the Poles ensured that more men could fight the Russian forces.

Poland has a long history of conflict with Moscow.

Russia was one of the three powers that divided Poland in the 18th century and, together with Austria and Prussia, erased it from the maps of Europe for more than 100 years, brutally suppressing aspirations for freedom. After World War II, Poland was an involuntary part of the Eastern Bloc and remained under Moscow rule for more than four decades, until the Poles peacefully overthrew the communist government.

In their current solidarity with Ukraine, many Poles have set aside historical grievances rooted in ethnic conflict, including the oppression of Ukrainians by Poles and the brutal Ukrainian massacre of some 100,000 Poles during World War II. worldwide in areas near Przewodow.

The Polish government offered temporary housing and financial assistance to the refugees and gave money to the Poles who took them in. Refugees also have access to free public medical care, schooling for their children and assistance in finding employment.

The war also changed a lot for Poland. He drew the world’s attention to Warsaw, where top leaders including US President Joe Biden have come to show their support for Ukraine and Poland’s aid efforts.

The conflict has strengthened Poland’s ties with its NATO allies, in particular with the United States, which has sent thousands of troops to southeastern Poland near the Ukrainian border, while the Poland has become a conduit for weapons sent from the West to Ukraine. The world’s humanitarian and medical efforts also pass through Poland.

Russia’s aggression prompted Warsaw to increase the country’s defense budget and spend billions of dollars on weapons from the United States and South Korea. Poland also actively supports Ukraine’s aspirations to strengthen its ties with the West and to join the European Union.

But as the war drags on, some Poles have become exhausted. Many are tired of welcoming strangers into their homes and paying skyrocketing energy costs. They complain that Ukrainians have taken jobs from Poles and left some families without places in public kindergartens. The huge demand for housing has driven up rents in major cities.

As winter approaches, it is feared that the growls will get louder.

The deputy editor of Rzeczpospolita, a major daily, raised concerns that bitterness over the missile deaths could become a pretext to weaken Poland’s commitment to Ukraine or deepen a gap between the two neighbors.

“Unfortunately, there are already voices who would like to use this tragedy to get Poland and Ukraine to fall out. And that would be absolutely against our national interest,” Michal Szuldrzynski wrote in an opinion piece published on Thursday.

“By defending their independence, Ukrainians are defending the West, including Poland. Therefore, our response to the Przewodow tragedy should not be to shun Ukraine, but even stronger support to increase his chances of driving the aggressor from his country,” Szuldrzynski wrote.

A spokesman for Poland’s main ruling party, Radoslaw Fogiel, on Thursday reiterated Poland’s support for Ukraine and stressed that the responsibility for the war lies entirely with Russia.

Fogiel warned that any discord between Warsaw and Kyiv would be in Moscow’s interest.

Polish President Andrzej Duda visited the site of the missile attack and spoke with investigators.

“There is a war across our border. Russia fired hundreds of missiles, Ukraine defended itself. Nobody wanted to hurt anyone in Poland,” Duda said. “This is our common tragedy.”

In Przewodow, a farming community of some 500 people about 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the border with Ukraine, villagers were shocked when the missile killed two employees of a grain drying facility, men they knew, at least by sight.

“Today we have a new situation which is very difficult for us, and especially difficult for our children,” said Ewa Byra, the headmistress of the village school.

The children kept asking, “Are we safe here so close to the border?” and “Are our parents safe?” Byra told The Associated Press.

The primary school suspended classes and offered psychological counseling to families.

“There is sadness because two people were killed here, and it is not a usual thing in such a small village,” observed Kancir, 24, a mother of two young children who said the one of the men killed lived just across the street. the road to his building.

The two men, aged 60 and 62, shared the same first name: Bogdan. One was the husband of a school staff member and the other the father of a recent student. One was a storekeeper at the grain drying facility; the other was a tractor driver.

One of them helped bring food and clothes to Ukrainian refugees and drive them to local offices to help them with paperwork, said Stanisław Staszczuk, the county secretary.

In the aftermath, the villagers are intimidated by the huge police presence in their usually quiet home.

“It is very difficult to accept this, what happened, because it was always calm, silent. Nothing ever happened here, and all of a sudden there is a worldwide sensation,” said said Kancir.

Associated Press writer Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.

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