I was only a few years old when my family took a long risky car ride across the "forbidden border" of our East neighbor, the Soviet Union.
It took my dad 20 years to gather the courage to try to find his place of birth and place of trauma.
In 1940 when Poland was shuttered under German occupation, the Russian army stepped in into Lithuanian farmland, where my father and his Polish family lived for generations. The soldiers announced that "We are here to protect you from Hitler and this is ours now".
My grandparent's farmland was beautiful, with rich agriculture, forest, lake. All Dad remembered is Russian chasing his Mother (my Grandma) out of the house with her 6 children in tow, on foot, and making hazardous walk west to Poland at war. Nobody knew what happened with his father, all later search attempts failed.
My Dad and his brother joined the resistance and then Polish Army, where he served for several years as an officer. His family got spread throughout the country, finding eventually each other at the end of WWII.
So there we were - my sister and me, stuffed in the back of the tiny car with pillows and blankets, driving for days. Finding the old property was not easy and scary in old U.S.S.R territory. We found a distant relative in Kaunas who helped to find the old family home and land. That relative, seeing how tired and frightened I was, comforted me with a gift of a sweet brown bear to hug. I have never parted with this bear since then (on a picture in a newer shirt) and silly as it is, he sits by my bed till today.
The house was still there, smaller than Dad remembered but the land was acres of beauty. Another distant relative was still living nearby, very old. He told us what he knew. When my Grandma was forced out, the soldiers took my Grandfather behind the house and plainly shot him to death. "Like a dog," he said, crying.
I never had the privilege to meet any of my Grandfathers. On my Mom's side, in western Poland, Grandpa survived the war. Till Russians rolled in with tanks, calling "Liberation!". All men were gathered for the last war efforts. Then they took them to Siberia, where they were put in hard labor and died. In the largest war of the centuries both my Grandfathers were killed not by the enemy but by our "protectors".
I lived my youth in the shadow of Big Brother (Russia). In 1989 when Solidarity movement started cracking the Communist yoke, the Russian armed forces crowded our eastern borders.
The whole country joined shipyard strikes, students like me camping at schools. All of us knew the threat.
"Will they cross the border or not". Every day. We knew the weight of decisions made by strikes. Solidarity, the first Workers Union in communist lands, has won and became the first country to break the communist's chain.
Or so it seemed. In 1981, the Russian-controlled General Jaruselski grabbed the power, established Marshall Law, and throw the legal government into jail.
End of freedom.
I happened to be in the U.S. at the time, stuck with no country to come back, and had enough.
Russian people don't want war, they suffered too much. As of today, there are many protesters in Russia thrown in jail for saying "Peace". News reporters were killed when trying to speak the truth. That country is controlled by government propaganda, idiotic as it is. They are told lies. Army service is mandatory in Russia. Those army tanks are full of hungry, frightened 18 y.o. boys who are put in the impossible position of killing his fellow Slavs. They were told that Ukrainians will welcome them. Instead, they end up getting orders to shoot and bomb.
Poland and Western Europe is right next to Ukraine. Supplies of gas, oil, metals, food are at stake. As well as the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, being a target of a maniac.
This is not just the Ukraine war. It's a war against the same bully that made your school years miserable, the same bully that made you quit your job, the same bully that made your life hell. Same bully that seems impossible to beat.
Unless we constantly and uniformly say, "We can't repeat this over and over again."