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A Town on Ukraine’s Edge, Determined to Escape Its Past

PRZEMYSL, Poland — For the reason that struggle broke out in Ukraine, the elegant little metropolis of Przemysl, lower than 10 miles from the Polish-Ukrainian border, has been remodeled into an enormous assist machine.

Eating places are feeding refugees as a substitute of standard clients. College gyms are internet hosting Ukrainians as a substitute of soccer video games. The native newspaper is elevating cash for psychological help for Ukrainian and Polish kids traumatized by the struggle.

This city has thought of nearly each attainable want of these fleeing Russian bombs — even taking of their pets.

“Now we have to assist,” mentioned Radek Fedaczynski, an area veterinarian who has been working day and evening to spirit out as many Ukrainian canine and cats as he can (and a stork and child goat). “It’s our future.”

This beneficiant angle might sound stunning, given Przemysl’s difficult and violent historical past. This a part of Poland endured horrible bloodletting all through the twentieth century, together with by the hands of Ukrainian nationalists.

However after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this city appears to have made an instinctive and collective resolution to place the unhealthy blood behind it. Like a lot of Poland itself, Przemysl (pronounced PSHEH-mihsh-ul)) sees the combat in Ukraine virtually as its personal combat, and it has welcomed the Ukrainian refugees with an outpouring of help, marking a poignant reset within the lengthy and complicated Polish-Ukrainian relationship.

Throughout World Conflict II, which is now on the minds of lots of Przemysl’s 60,000 residents, Nazis and Soviets took turns invading the town, wiping out civilians. Przemysl’s Jewish neighborhood, as soon as a 3rd of the inhabitants, was diminished to a couple households. Because the struggle was lastly ending, bloodshed exploded between Ukrainians and Poles, with Ukrainian nationalists massacring Poles in giant numbers and Poles placing again in revenge.

Przemysl has as soon as once more placed on its struggle paint. Its trains are taking Ukrainian fighters into the battle; its bridges are carrying weapons and materials to the entrance; and overseas troops are stomping down its charming, windy, cobbled streets. However this time they’re People, a part of the NATO power primarily based in Poland.

The largest focus has been serving to the five hundred,000 Ukrainian refugees who’ve handed via the city, largely girls and kids, mentioned the mayor, Wojciech Bakun.

Mr. Bakun co-founded a nationalist political social gathering that had been accused of spreading anti-Ukrainian views earlier than Russia’s invasion. However he has exchanged his enterprise go well with for a khaki army jacket and his workplace in a Sixteenth-century yellow townhouse for the city’s practice station, a significant refugee transit level, to guide the rising assist efforts.

“I’m not going to elucidate historical past to a three-year outdated who simply crossed the border,” he mentioned about his change of angle.

Many residents mentioned the identical factor: Occasions have modified, and with greater than 1,000,000 Ukrainian staff already in Poland earlier than Russia’s invasion, that sense of otherness between Ukrainians and Poles has step by step worn down.

The help efforts are having a therapeutic worth as properly. Serving to others, a number of residents mentioned, has helped take their minds off the struggle.

A great chunk of the inhabitants, particularly older residents, are preoccupied with the concept that the Russians may storm throughout the border. Every time the Russians bomb deeper into western Ukraine, generally only a few miles from Polish territory, this concern grows.

“Something is feasible,” mentioned Jan Jarosz, the top of the Nationwide Museum of Przemysl.

As he gazed out of his workplace home windows, which look over the city and the San River, he mentioned: “If I had been Putin, I’d bomb these two bridges. All the pieces goes via these bridges.”

He was referring to Przemysl’s fundamental railway bridge (which many fighters going again into Ukraine have used) and a freeway bridge throughout the San River that serves as one of many busiest conduits of provides and matériel into western Ukraine.

Beneath a secret pact throughout World Conflict II, Nazis and Soviets divided Poland, and Przemysl, between themselves. The San River that snakes via city was the border. It separated the Nazi-occupied half, the place the Jews had been put in a ghetto, from the japanese facet of city, which was integrated into the Soviet Union as a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the place all indicators of Polishness had been brutally repressed.

Divided households stood on reverse river banks and shouted information to one another. Throughout them, Russian and German troops hunkered down, generally in outdated fortifications constructed by generations of invaders to regulate this space.

As we speak the brand new troopers on the town are from the 82nd Airborne Division. The opposite night, a busload of People, wearing camouflage and fight boots, marched as much as Przemysl’s hottest doughnut store, which serves hunky rectangular pastries (with no gap) filled with Nutella or rose jam. The United States has doubled the number of troops it usually stations in Poland, a member of the NATO alliance, to roughly 9,000. When requested what they had been doing right here, one soldier responded, “To guarantee and deter.”

Regardless of all of the battle it has weathered, Przemysl remains to be an attractive little metropolis with a Thirteenth- century fortified fortress, ornamented Baroque church buildings, bumpy stone streets and vintage allure at each flip. The city even performs a centuries-old bugle name thrice a day from its clock tower to mark time passing by.

For hundreds of years, Ukrainians have performed an vital position in shaping the town’s multicultural heritage. A large neighborhood of ethnic Ukrainians, has lived right here for many years and numbers round 2,000 in the present day. Relations between them and ethnic Poles have steadily improved. However when there’s bother in Ukraine, bother can bubble up right here, too.

A number of years in the past, not lengthy after Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula and wrested it away from Ukraine, nationalists in Przemysl attacked a Ukrainian church procession. The police rapidly arrested the culprits. However ethnic Ukrainians suspected that a few of Przemysl’s municipal officers had stoked the thugs and that Russia was utilizing Fb and different social media to sow hatred between Poles and ethnic Ukrainians.

“So long as Russia and Ukraine are at struggle, Russia will hold doing this,” mentioned Kasia Komar-Macynska, a younger ethnic Ukrainian neighborhood chief.

For Dr. Fedaczynski, the veterinarian, and his four-legged sufferers, little of this issues. His middle, the ADA Animal Hospital, is the closest animal hospital to the border, and the primary logical cease for any residing factor needing shelter from the struggle.

Almost every single day he sends a pet rescue squad into Ukraine or receives a truckload of anxious animals popping out of the struggle.

His hospital has been coordinating intently with animal shelters in Ukraine to rescue animals from giant shelters, non-public homes and almost abandoned condo blocs, even army airports. Some Ukrainian pet homeowners have despatched their animals out of besieged cities whereas they themselves stay behind, with the hope that they are going to be reunited one higher day.

After the animals arrive at Dr. Fedaczynski’s clinic, his employees examines, vaccinates and places chips in them. They’ve rescued greater than 600 thus far — Chihuahuas, German shepherds, one Egyptian cat, lots of of different cats, a mutt named Rocky Balboa, the stork with a damaged beak and a 10-day-old goat named Sasha.

The animals are sometimes too traumatized to maneuver. To ease their struggling, the hospital employees takes them for walks, lets the canine romp round collectively on particular playgrounds and performs classical music to a room filled with caged cats to allow them to go to sleep extra simply.

Dr. Fedaczynski mentioned it actually helped the Ukrainians who stayed of their war-torn nation to know that their pets had been protected. Nevertheless it helps him too.

When the struggle erupted in Ukraine, he mentioned, it was like “the worst desires got here true.”

“When you consider it, you may go loopy, so you’ll want to do one thing,” he defined. “It makes you’re feeling good.”

Erin Schaff contributed reporting.

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