Supporting Ukraine on Land and Sea: In Memoriam of Maciej Bednarski

December 22, 2023
Honoring the memory of Polish soldier Maciej Bednarski, who enlisted in the Armed Forces of Ukraine to fight for justice.

Maciej Bednarski couldn't just stand by as he watched the unfolding war in Ukraine from the other side of the Ukrainian-Polish border. His heart was restless. In time, it drove his mind to actually plan joining the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

A few months had passed before Maciej, a former mariner, began fighting in one of the most challenging sectors of the front -- Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast. This war felt very close to him, and yet it was far due to the numerous formalities he had to complete to fight in it.

I am aware of the consequences that I may suffer in Poland for fighting in the armed forces of a foreign army. But in my opinion, calling professional soldiers mercenaries is simply offensive. I don't fight for money. I just do my job.

Those are the words Maciej told to the Wprost media where Karolina Baca-Pogorzelska works. It is through her eyes that the picture of Maciej becomes three-dimensional in our text.

"In May this year, he wrote me a private message asking if I could help him join the Ukrainian army. My friend Jakub Jaworski underwent this procedure in Kharkiv, so I put Maciek in touch with him. Maciek was supposed to be a combat medic, but due to his experience in the Polish army, he became a soldier and commander of a small unit in the 53rd brigade."

Maciej in Izium, photo via his X.

Maciej and Karolina initially followed each other on social media. Soon, Ukraine became the backdrop against which their relationship deepened. The sounds of battle, familiar to both of them, were the background for their regular conversations.

"He was a very talkative person, which is why we talked so much on the phone, and when we met, we talked until the night," Karolina recalls.

Those conversations moved the war to the margins of their consciousness as they were mostly sharing life facts and enjoying personal storytelling. There was even an inside joke which developed between them, directly related to the war but not burdened by it. 

"Once, I bought another car for him, and we called it 'Scarlett Rhett.' It's the name of a character from Gone with the Wind, because I always said 'I'll think about it tomorrow' like Scarlett," Karolina recounts.

Among other things that Karolina purchased for Maciej and his brigade were a drone and another car, the Galloper. That vehicle was named 'Monika' after Maciej's daughter.

Photo of the 'Monika' car via Maciej's X

Maciej began performing combat missions in September 2023, after undergoing two months of training. But he had been in Ukraine since July.

"When the full-scale war broke out and Russia attacked Ukraine, one of the ships that sailed to us had Ukrainians as its entire crew.  I was receiving this ship, and they asked if we could help evacuate their families. They were mainly from Mariupol. I said I would try, and that's how it started. I called my friends who live near the border, and we started acting. Somehow it worked. And then there was a second such ship, a third, and more, so that's how my support for Ukraine began. And then I decided that I had to do something more to ensure that such a nightmare would never happen again, and never in our country," Maciej told Wprost.

As an experienced serviceman, Maciej joined the regular Ukrainian army as a senior corporal. This was the rank he had attained while serving in the Polish army. After undergoing compulsory military service among the Blue Berets in the Gdańsk coastal defense force at the age of 18, he chose to stay in the army for an extended period.

While he initially accepted a position as a medic, he thought to himself that 'it would probably be easier to be at the front fighting with a rifle.' That is eventually what came to be.

Maciej explained his motivation concisely -- to not let Russia move beyond its official borders. It was reason enough for him to come to Ukraine and contribute to the effort himself.

"I was working near Kupyansk, with the 103rd Brigade. After arriving in Ukraine, Maciej came to visit us twice. There, he met my boys and they became friends," Karolina recalls.

So did Maciej and Karolina.

We were in constant contact. We talked every day on the phone, and we became friends. I can definitely say that he was a very close friend of mine. We didn't just talk about the war and Ukraine but about everything.

Beyond just making good friends in Ukraine, Maciej fell in love with the country itself, including its culture and its places.

"He liked to cook Ukrainian borshch. And as he liked to eat fish, in Kharkiv, we went to the restaurant Chornomorka [which serves Black Sea seafood]," Karolina adds.

While in Ukraine, Maciej felt a great resonance between the country's soul and his. After the war, he was planning to move to Kharkiv, and that is where he now rests. 

Even though he couldn't witness the war's conclusion due to a deadly accident, the pages of Ukrainian history will now forever hold his name. It stands among people as brave as Maciej, and we believe he would take joy in that.

Lisa Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld