by Marilù Mastogiovanni

Demonstration of Ukrainian refugees in Krakow, Poland – Photo Marcello Carrozzo

We arrive in Krakow, which is almost night.

The lungs compressed by the greasy and heavy hot spirits of the last days are relieved with the freak that for us the Mediterranean is spring.

Here at 18 degrees it is full summer.

With Marcello Carrozzo, old-fashioned photojournalist and lecturer like me at the Masters in Journalism at the University of Bari, we decide to go out and get some fresh air in the center. He joins us Massimiliano Rizzunipacifist activist from Torrepaduli (Lecce), with many years of hospitality on his shoulders.

Girls and boys drinking beer and eating Zapiekanka, bread cut in half lengthwise and filled like pizza, with cheeses, mushrooms and various sauces.

We chat until late at night about how difficult it is to propose a narrative of wars that stick to reality, not polarized, not party political.

We return to the hotel at three in the morning with more doubt than security.

But isn’t that what a journalist should do? Ask questions, but ask questions first.

We meet in front of my hotel at 10.

It is in the center and we walk up to Rynek Główny, Krakow’s main square, the largest medieval square in Europe.

It’s like all the squares in the European tourist towns: many stalls selling souvenirs, magnets, flowered circles to put on their heads, typical of Polish dolls. There’s Mac Donald, Hard Rock Cafe and Zara. There is struscio, shopping, street food.

There are the beggars, the drunkards, the homeless. Families on vacation, strollers, teenage tribes, Japanese and Chinese.

At noon, a (real) trumpet appears from the bell tower of the Basilica of Santa Maria and plays a short gripping piece.

The square claps and resumes its crowds.

In the distance we hear a loudspeaker, it is in the middle of the square.

The Ukrainian flag is waving. They are a group of Ukrainian refugees who were recently welcomed in Krakow.

They have prepared a very effective communication campaign that would like to strike in the stomach: a doll, a teddy bear, a broken and bloody toy and even a simple word: the names of the various bombed Ukrainian cities.

There are posters with the slogan “Stop killing Ukrainian children”, or “Mariupol, the heroes of the Ukrainian resistance”.

8-10-year-old girls and boys hold up posters with pictures of bloody toys. They are advanced on the front row.

Some women are waving the Ukrainian flag: Nina and Tania, mother and daughter, aged 43 and 62, from a small village in northern Ukraine, 15 kilometers from the Russian border. Before the war, one was a teacher of subjects, the other a pediatrician. There are Yulia and Natalia at 52 and 24 years old, also a mother and daughter, one math teacher, the other an engineer. I’m from Cherkasy, a small town in central Ukraine.

There is Halina, a 62-year-old engineer, her son Ivan has been a soldier since 2014 in the Donbass. For the war has been going on for eight years, he points out.

Nina is 18 years old from Dnipro and sings a sad and proud song, a hymn of resistance. Everyone claps, then some turn their backs and continue painting, with a pretzel in their hands.

The prezels are good and it’s almost time for lunch.

Their scent rises higher than the tones of the song sung by the girl.

Ukrainian refugees thank Poland for welcoming them.

After talking to them and photographing their faces, slogans and their posters, I think the same posters would be useless because they are unlikely, for another war, from a different part of the world, a different world than ours, where children do not have teddy bears, dolls or toys, and therefore they would not have the same objects that are so familiar to ours, to represent bloody, to excite us, to strike us in the stomach. Yet children die, in wars that are neither in favor of the camera nor in favor of social media.

Children play with sticks, or with raffia wires, or with toy cars made from recycled cans. How many have I seen in slams on the outskirts of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia or in slams of Windohek in Namibia. Imagine a poster with a bloody stick, or a thread of raffia or a piece of can that vaguely resembles a car: Even if you represent it bloody, you do not feel the blow in the stomach.

They are so far away from us. They are black.

And then, after talking to Tania, Nina, etc., etc., and after taking close-ups of them, and getting excited about them, with them, I found the right picture to tell what I saw today.

I was behind the exhibition of a souvenir stall, and from there I looked at that group of refugees and their flags from a distance.

They are also commodified, revealed, with their lives so similar to ours and therefore so unbearable to see them torn to pieces and put on stalls waiting for the rich West to play its games while enjoying the show, with a prezel in a hand and an anti-tank HIMARS in the other.

In the afternoon, Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with a Hermelin, stored at the Czartoryski Museum, reconciles me with all the beauty that the human soul is capable of.

The contemplation of art makes me feel exactly the same sense of peace, happiness and hope that I feel when I arrive at the Metropolo Hotel, where I meet some of the activists who are to take part in the peace march against Kiev: hugs Angelo Moretti, spokeswoman for MEAN, the European non-violent movement, Marianella Scavi, who coordinates the mission with him, and many others.

We hug and meet at 5 in the morning. We leave for Melyka, on the Ukrainian border.

Together we are a work of art that becomes action. Light but solid. Without limits.


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thank you
Marilù Mastrogiovanni






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