In Poland's city of Suwałki, a group of Ukrainian refugees launched an initiative to clean up public spaces. Soon enough, refugees across the country did the same.
Approximately 30 refugees from Ukraine have helped clean up public sidewalks, boulevards, monuments and parks in cities and towns across Poland each Saturday morning for the past month. This was a gesture to say thank you to the country for accepting them. The impromptu campaign has since been called "subotnik," which refers to an annual spring tradition in Ukraine where families come together to clean public spaces. It first began in March, when a group of refugee women in the small city of Suwałki in northeastern Poland asked their local officials if there were some way they could complete community service to show their appreciation for all the help they had received, The Globe and Mail reports.
Ukrainian gratefulness to world is immeasurable. Ukrainian refugees clean up the streets, beaches and parks of helping countries as a means of gratitude.— KyivPride (@KyivPride) April 15, 2022
Look how it was in Poland, Romania, Turkey and Czech Republic 💙💛
THANK YOU FOR HELPING UKRAINE! pic.twitter.com/QbKmjpFiJp
The city complied with the group's request, and so on March 26, 30 refugees spent hours removing trash from Suwałki’s biggest park as well as two of its major city boulevards. "We wanted to repay the city and the people that live here for welcoming us," said Irina Koval in an interview with the news outlet. Koval was one of the refugees who took part in the first subotnik. "They gave us a home, food, clothes. We are happy that at least we can say thank you for it."
AS A WAY OF SAYING 'THANK YOU' TO THE PEOPLE OF POLAND FOR ACCOMMODATING THEM AS REFUGEES, UKRAINIAN CITIZENS HAVE BEGAN THE CLEAN-UP OF VARIOUS TOWNS ACROSS THE COUNTRY STARTING FROM SUWALKI❤️🇺🇦✊ pic.twitter.com/jCxYLEtvUP— Hazardjnr✌️ (@ItalianBorga97) April 1, 2022
Kamil Sznel, a municipal official, shared in a post on Facebook, "The refugees came up with the idea of cleaning city parks. The road workers handed over the equipment and these Ukrainian women with their children started the action on Saturday morning." Shortly after, the idea took off across cities and towns in Poland. As a result, subotnik activities now take place in almost a dozen communities all over the country, with more communities added every single week. Refugees come to know of each cleanup drive through social media, where the locations are posted, and word of mouth. Presently, the efforts are completely driven by the community: there is no one apparent organizer and volunteers simply show up at a designated site and get to work. Furthermore, while there is nothing stopping Polish folks from joining in on the efforts, the cleanup drives have been led entirely by Ukrainian refugees so far.
More recently, hordes of volunteers residing in Warsaw gathered at three different locations—the Kabacki Forest, the Bielanski Forest and the Rembertowski Forest—where they conducted one of the largest cleanup drives yet. Ola Maistrenko, who arrived in Warsaw last month from Kyiv with her nine-year-old son, her mother, and her sister, was one of the volunteers. She affirmed, "I wanted to do something for Poland." Nonetheless, while Maistrenko and other refugees like her are grateful for Poland's hospitality, they want to go home as soon as possible. For example, Anastasiia Kovalenko fled to Poland from Brovary, outside Kyiv, with her 16-year-old sister. "Poland has given us so much, it is a great idea to say thanks," she said. "[But] we want to go back maybe in one or two weeks. We are crossing our fingers."