Mariupol authorities estimate that 300 people were killed in a Russian strike on the theater

If there’s one nation that understands Ukraine’s turmoil, it’s Poland, which hosts President Joe Biden on Friday as part of his emergency mission to shore up NATO defenses after the invasion. brutality of Russia.

In the United States, Biden’s warnings that democracy is under siege by menacing autocrats may seem distant, even after former President Donald Trump’s U.S. Capitol uprising and attempt to steal the 2020 election.

But in Poland, Ukraine’s neighbour, freedom is fresh enough to still be a novelty. In a tortured 20th century history, the country – torn between East and West – was repeatedly conquered, ruled by foreign tyrants and saw millions of its people purged or driven as refugees from the homes destroyed by war.

Poland once again finds itself in the front line of the conflict. It sits on the dividing line between the states of the NATO club, to which it now belongs, and President Vladimir Putin’s Russian orbit, which includes another Polish neighbor, Belarus. Poland has opened its borders to more than 2 million of the roughly 3.7 million Ukrainians who fled Putin’s onslaught, and the war has moved closer to its borders with a Russian strike on a base in the west from Ukraine earlier this month.

Like Ukraine, Poland lived for decades under the Communist iron fist of Moscow. Like Ukrainians, Poles are often brave, deeply suspicious of Russians and fighting for their freedom and sovereignty rooted in their DNA. Unlike Ukraine, one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union, Poland came to the West after decades under the Warsaw Pact. And as well as being in NATO, he’s a member of the European Union, though he’s had some recent tensions with Brussels over his own flirtations with populist nationalism.

As Putin’s threat mounted in recent years, Poland hosted rotations of American troops and aircraft. In February, before Putin invaded Ukraine, Poland was one of the nations Biden had ordered 3,000 troops to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank. If the war in Ukraine turns into a wider conflict between Russia and the West, a frightening prospect, there is a good chance it will happen in Poland.

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