Bordering on insanity

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
It was the juxtaposition of Serious Concern for The Markets with a segment about Ukrainian women home-making Molotov cocktails that really got me this week.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
To home-make Molotov cocktails you get a can or bottle and fill it with sharp things -— screws, nails, scrap metal, broken glass. You stuff a petrol-soaked rag really tight in the top and I’ve forgotten how or if you pressurise it before you light it and let fly.

I have the luxury of my life not depending on that knowledge.

I researched this a couple of years ago because I wanted to put it in a book and it’s what my babcia (grandmother) would have done. My dziadzio (grandfather), born in Kyiv/Kijów/Kiev and a Polish citizen, was one of the ones who actually had a gun but got in trouble for refusing to fire it. My babcia chose in 1944 in Warsaw to leave home and join the uprising. She thought it would be over in maybe three or five days. It was maybe four decades, maybe more like five, half a long lifetime, before she went home a free woman.

I wasn’t told, or I didn’t listen, to more than the broad strokes of this history as a child, though we did have a map of Poland in the bathroom, with borders over the decades defined by different combinations of dots or lines. Borders not to be trusted.

In 2019 I went on a writers’ residency to Krakow, where I met another writer from Syria. One day over coffee I mentioned that I missed my children. Two months was such a long time not to see them. Even though/especially because they were 15. Over coffee she mentioned her son would be a teenager too. She hadn’t seen him since he was 6. At the border.

At the border, the Polish government (in fact, all of the EU now) is letting in Ukrainian refugees but not those from, for example, Syria.

On Instagram I double tap to heart a tile. On the top it has an adult rescuing a drowning child while another child flounders in front. The bottom is murky green water. The adult is titled World’s Attention. World’s Attention is holding Ukraine. The drowning child is Palestine. There are palm trees and in the green murk by a shipwreck below it says Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Bosnia, Kashmir.

In the Telegraph, journalist and Conservative politician Daniel Hannan wrote "They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone." It is shocking, what is happening. And it is shocking to suggest that other people’s lives are worth more because they look, act, seem like "us".

The "people like us" effect (which is the kindest thing I can think of to call it) not only invisibles other people in other countries, but other people in the same escape. People of colour fleeing Ukraine are being pushed to the backs of border lines. Trans men and women are being advised to "lose" their documentation for their own safety. Imagine being queer and having to think of Poland, where Andrzej Duda, the president, is famous for saying that LGBTQIA+ ideology is worse than communism, as your safe haven.

Prejudice is alive and on a long leash right now, and I’m not saying that’s anything new though I’m frightened by how bold and how mainstream the voice of white straight supremacy is becoming again.

Another story I remember about my grandparents is that Dziadzio wouldn’t have The Russians at their university boarding house, on account of how they changed sides during the war.

It must’ve been years after he died that Babcia shifted, slightly, her own borders and allowed her first Russian, a film star academic, in the house. I remember his very white teeth. One day she confided how nice he was, how he didn’t seem Russian at all.