Understanding the East West

Game: Understanding the West

Level 1: Moving home

January 2015, I’m 15 years old. From now on, I’ll live in Poland and start playing the game: “Understanding the West”. From now on, people who have passports with the crowned White Eagle are better. They wield the power because they are different, better, and come from a better country: from the West.

I did not leave my family home because of the outbreak of war. I tell people this, but I have never fully believed it myself. In fact, I left home because the country was governed by thugs and thieves. The rich rule my home country.


‘The government’s terrible; you have to wait ages to see a doctor …’, I hear.

‘They’re corrupt, but not that corrupt. Free access to healthcare …’, I respond in my mind.

‘Dirty, grey, and miserable …’, they continue.

‘Clean, there are bins everywhere, colourful blocks of flats and smiling people …’, I reply.

‘No more complaining’, says the teacher finally, thus ending the discussion in my head. ‘You haven’t been to other countries where living conditions are even worse than here in Poland’, she adds and discretely glances in my direction. I’m 15 years old, I’m in a geography class, and I’m not at all offended by the situation at hand. People say that you can’t be insulted by the truth. I wink at the teacher, letting her know that I agree, and start thinking about the opportunities I would have had, had I been born 15 years earlier in a different part of Europe instead of 2,000 kilometres to the east.

February 2015


—Ukra, Ukra, the ball …

—Pass it, Ukra …

—Ukra …

At football training, they call me Ukra. No one calls me by my actual name, although it’s not that hard to pronounce; it actually sounds quite Polish. They don’t care about anything other than where I’m from. For them, it’s a certain novelty, as if they were seeing a foreigner for the first time. For me, it’s sad that they constantly emphasize that I’m different, other.

March 2015


A school trip to the cinema should be fun for everyone. Instead of math problems—a film and some popcorn. But not for me: the entire school goes to the premiere of Wojciech Smarzowski’s film Volhynia or Hatred. Volhynia—genocide of Poles. Genocide of Poles—UPA. UPA—Ukraine. According to Polish teenagers, this is a great opportunity to blame me for the tragedy that took place 73 years ago and a perfect opportunity to spew terrible things about my homeland and Ukrainians in general.

The period between 1943–1944 was the same for both their and my own ancestors—they fled the war, they fled the genocide, they fled east from Poland in order to survive. Thanks to my grandparents’ courage and determination, I’m alive now.

October 2016


—Poland for the Poles! F#ck off back to Ukraine!

February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2015

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2016

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2017

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2018

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2019

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2020

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2021

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2022

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 2023

January, February, March, April, May 2024


‘Final exam is a scam!’, my classmates joke.

‘Passed with flying colours … Less than zero …’, are constantly played on the radio.

One of the most memorable moments in the life of every teenager—high school final exams, also known as the matura exam. I’m a mature person, and this exam will show everyone that I’m capable, and I will thrive in my future, adult life. In the written section of the Polish Language and Literature exam, I get a question about Boleslaw Prus’ The Doll—a test of true Polishness. Mathsshort multiplication formulas. On the way, I explain this to my friend. Unfortunately, she fails—but it wasn’t just about the formulas. 

 I’m quite privileged when it comes to the secondary language exam—I choose my native Russian, which is foreign to everyone else, but not to me. The examiners are glad that it all took just 27 minutes. English, Russian, maths, electives—everything goes well.

On Day X, I have my oral Polish language exam. In my mind and heart, I pray not to get questions about the functions and codes of language. I’m last on the list, but after the exam I come up first—I pass with 100%. Everyone says that this must be a coincidence or because I’m from Ukraine. My teachers don’t believe I’ve done so well, and a friend explains that I must have got the highest score because the examiners felt sorry for me. Only I know that I deserved it. I’m so proud of myself—I passed the exam in managing, somehow.

May 2016


I want to become an interpreter. At University, I hear a professor say that people from the East are inferior, have worse speech apparatuses, and are generally far less talented. Seminar leaders give me extra assignments because I’m from there, and already know a lot of things. I just want to translate, but because Russian is my native tongue, they say I picked this degree in order to do the bare minimum, and I’m not allowed to take the final exam. They say I won’t be able to make it, but I know I will. There were around 20 of us (people from the East) at the start of the academic year. Only one went on to finish the course.

September 2017

They keep saying things, and I keep trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I can manage: I do my best, learn, gain experience. They keep saying things, but they don’t realize that soon I will not only work on smaller translation projects, but also as an interpreter. My jobs will soon include interpreting for the Ukrainian National Team during UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO 2022, for cultural activists as part of the international PerspAKTIV project, for the rector of one of the largest art universities in Poland, and many others.


‘Any number of foreign players from outside the European Union may be included in the reported team, however, just one foreign player from outside the European Union may be named in the match protocol …’—This is how the beach soccer regulatory body, the Board of the Polish Football Association, and the Statute of the Polish Football Association determine who can play and who will watch the match from the stands.

During the Polish Women’s Beach Soccer Championships, I had to watch half of the matches from the stands. I didn’t have an injury, but I also didn’t have the EU citizenship. Fellow players from Spain and other EU countries played, scored goals, and enjoyed the successes with their teams. They were not Polish, but they had the advantage of 12 yellow stars on a navy-blue flag.

July 2018


—It’s good that the war has started; Russia is right and will slaughter your entire nation; you deserve all those bombs, bullets, and deaths …—shouts some 14-year-old boy in the park. For the first time in a long time, I don’t know how to respond.

March 2022


‘We have to cancel the viewing, I’ve just rented the flat to someone else’, I hear over the phone. Despite that, five minutes later, my friend manages to arrange a viewing.

‘Is it an issue that I come from Ukraine?’, I ask, in my Russian accent.

‘No, I really have already rented it out … It’s not about that …’.

‘I would appreciate you being honest with me …’.

‘No, no, I don’t care about that.’ A moment of silence. ‘Yes, you’re from Ukraine …’.

After a few more minutes and questions, I hear the truth—the issue is that I have Polish citizenship, a Russian accent, and Ukrainian ancestry.

September 2023


‘I am keen to buy, I have the cash …’ suddenly, I’m interrupted.

‘You’re part of the Ukrainian mafia, I will not sell you my car.’

End of conversation.

February 2024

March 2024, I’m 24 years old, I’ve lived in Poland for nine years, and I’ve been playing a different game for a long time now. This game is called Understanding the East. I’ve had a passport with the White Eagle for four years now. For the past four years, according to my earlier assessment, I’ve been in a position of privilege. Now I should be one with the power, because I’m different, because I’m better, because I now have citizenship of a Western State.

But this is not the case, I was wrong. Poles do not accept half-blood princes, and Ukrainians feel betrayed.

Every day I fall asleep in Poland, and I dream about my Ukrainian home in Polish with a Russian accent. In my eyes, I’m the same as you, but to you, I’m still different.

Game: Understanding the West East

Level 2: Life

March 2024, I’m 24 years old; I’ve lived in Poland for nine years now; I have friends and colleagues. I finished school, went to University, got two degrees. I have a job that I enjoy, and I work on interesting projects and meet interesting people. I feel safe, secure, and know that I have a bright future ahead of me. I’m almost happy, though I often miss the East.

The last time I went home was in 2019. I’m starting to forget what it’s like therein the East. I don’t really understand how everything works there these days. I’m beginning to stop “Understanding the East”; I’m starting to play a new game.

Yuliya / Julia Zalozna is a translator, an interpreter, and an exhibition coordinator at the Magdalena Abakanowicz University of the Arts Poznań. She graduated with a BA degree in Russian Philology with a major in Translation Studies and completed an MA in Russian Translation at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. As a translator, she has worked with, among others, Posnania City Publishing House and the Municipal Gallery Arsenał. In 2022, she was an interpreter for the Ukrainian National Team during UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO.


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