SIU law professor observes firsthand Ukrainian humanitarian effort while teaching in Poland
SIU School of Law Professor Cindy Buys recently spent two months teaching in Poland and saw firsthand the Ukrainian refugee situation in that country. In addition to providing students with a greater understanding of international business, negotiations and an introduction to the U. A city of nearly 200,000 people in north-central Poland, Toruń saw its population increase by as much as 10% since February, Buys said. “They felt a lot of guilt about not being home and helping fight, but on the other hand, they were safe and wanted to finish their education and so it was a very, very difficult decision,” she said, adding she felt “the stress, the worry and fear every time you talked to the Ukrainians who were in Poland. A judge whose court is in Kyiv and who had been a visiting professor at the university fled to Toruń with her son because she knew people there. Buys said some of her Polish colleagues were paying for apartments for Ukrainian families and that many Polish citizens opened up their homes to refugees. “The people in Poland were giving money, food, medical supplies, clothing and everything for the Ukrainians. These efforts can “reaffirm your faith in humanity when things look terrible, when you see how generous people are; how much they want to help other people,” Buys said.
Buys said the work was a “civil society effort” not necessarily directed by the Polish government. Buys signed her contract to teach at Nicolaus Copernicus University about a week before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. She viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe a conflict and refugee crisis, help convey what was happening and use her expertise as an international lawyer to assist the refugee or international humanitarian situation. She participated in the Ukraine Accountability Initiative, run by the U. “There are clearly war crimes happening in Ukraine, no doubt,” Buys said. While there, Buys learned a lot about Polish history and the relationships within the region. Friends took Buys to a forest outside of Toruń where during World War II German soldiers lined up the city’s leaders and shot them. “For them, the betrayal by the Russians was worse in many ways,” Buys said.
Buys noted that Putin’s desire to keep Ukraine from joining NATO seems to have backfired, noting that Finland, Sweden and other countries now also want to join NATO. In Poland, students have a more theoretical and historical approach to law in their early years, so they really enjoyed her negotiations class. “Every day, we would learn some theory about negotiation and techniques, and then we would practice. In classes at SIU, Buys will share and contrast Poland’s judicial system and that of the United States, along with using current evidence of what is happening in Ukraine when having conversations about what makes a war crime under international law. The experience is also leading to work with a Polish law professor on a joint article that compares some of the refugee issues in Poland and in the United States. Buys said one stereotypical impression she had prior to her trip was that Poland was “gray,” dating back to its days as part of the Soviet Union.
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