To the refugee friend I shared so many adventures with
Oliwier, 15, and his family hosted Nazar, 16, and his mother for 5 months in their home in Poland after they fled the war in Ukraine. Nazar quickly became like a brother to Oliwier, who recalls the great times they had together and everything he learned from his friend.
Since the start of the war, nearly one-third of Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes, with more than 6.2 million people displaced within the country and more than 7.6 million refugees from Ukraine recorded across Europe, including 1.4 million in neighbouring Poland.
This letter has been edited for length and clarity.
Listen to Oliwier read the letter:
I hope that you are doing well and settled back into life in Ukraine.
The last time I wrote a letter was probably to Santa Claus when I was just a kid. But I really wanted to take the time to write to you and talk about how big of an impact you had on me personally while you lived with me and my family in Warsaw.
First of all, you are a great athlete and I really enjoyed spending time playing my favourite sports with you. Together we supported each other in our quest to become better athletes. Remember when we were playing basketball in my backyard and when one of us finally made that trick-shot? It was like something from the NBA! It felt like we were one kilometre away from the basket. Yet, we still both made it – making the ball fly through the huge branches of the tree that stood in the way. Even Stephen Curry would have had problems with making that shot. That was the best feeling ever.
Moreover, I got to feel what it would be like having a brother with whom I could share my experiences in life, good and bad. Being with you made me realize that sometimes I feel kind of lonely in my normal life, being an only child.
Our last adventure together was one that I really enjoyed. Struggling to ride our bikes back from the city centre at night was a whole new experience I think for both of us. But because we had each other for support it was more exciting than stressful. We had to buy electric lights, so we didn’t end up breaking the law, or crashing on the pitch-black streets.
I remember when we both were out of energy, but every time one of us wanted to slow down or take a break, we kept on pushing one another to go forward and finally get back home safely. It was such a sense of achievement when we finally got home. I felt like we just finished cycling in the Tour de France.
You showed me that it is possible to form great friendships with people despite language barriers (Google Translate was helpful) and differences in background. Thanks to you, I learned a couple of really interesting Ukrainian phrases which I find a lot of fun to listen to and try to say (e.g. я не знаю = I don’t know).
You made me realize that even if something seems impossible or at least very challenging, even the impossible becomes possible if you really want it enough. I see now that you can make a connection with somebody and build a good friendship even if you don’t fully share a common language. Your experiences made me understand that my life or anybody’s life can get badly disrupted by something like war, and that we should not take peace and stability for granted and assume that it will always be there.
I’m full of admiration for how you were able to be cheerful and happy after being forced to leave your home, pet cat, personal possessions, grandparents and father. I hope that if I ever face such a situation, I will be as strong as you in dealing with it.
My favourite memories of the time we spent together are definitely all the occasions when you were smiling after what we had done. For example, when we finally built the tent in my backyard and were ready to spend the night under the stars listening to your favourite artist Miyagi (who I still listen to from time to time, by the way!).
Before meeting you and your family, the idea of living with random strangers in a different country would have sounded stressful and too difficult to manage for me. However, in reality, after I met you and your mother I learned that I can be flexible, and I can adapt my own behaviour to the needs of somebody else. This helped me to grow as a person.
I’d like to think that I had a positive impact on you in some way. Maybe you learned to be more open to strangers? Maybe I gave you a sense of being safe and a feeling that you were at home? I really hope that you enjoyed our adventures as much as I did and that you found some joy and had some fun in this difficult situation.
Lastly, I want to thank you for all of these great memories that we share and created together. These five months were some of the best of my life and I will always value your friendship.
I hope that one day we can meet again and experience more great times like we had this year.
In the meantime, I hope that you and your family are safe and can continue your lives back in Ukraine, and that soon you will have peace and happiness. I’m sure we will keep in touch via social media.