A Polish city that became the world’s link to Ukraine pt.1

Rzeszów is the largest city in southeast Poland, historically serving as a crossroads connecting Eastern Europe to Asia and beyond.

In the 15th century, the city developed trade links with the Ottoman Empire and the Baltic, facilitating the movement of both people and goods. These links allowed Rzeszów to grow and develop, becoming the seat for local nobility.

Rzeszów sits on ground that remains soaked in the blood of centuries of war. The town was destroyed by Tatar forces in 1458 and 1502. During the Great Northern War, several armies sacked the town, in the First World War, the area served as a bloody frontline between Russian and Austro-Hungarian forces.

At the outset of the Second World War, Nazi forces moved into the area, imprisoning and executing a number of citizens in the first few weeks of occupation. The first Gestapo post was established sometime in September of 1939. Rzeszów then became home to a large Jewish ghetto, with a population of over 12,000. Between 1942 and 1943, the ghetto was liquidated, with most residents sent to the Belzec and Szebnie concentration camps.

Rzeszów also became the focal point of local resistance groups, the Polish Underground Home Army utilized the city as a regional center of operations. In 1944, the city was taken by Home Army fighters during Operation Tempest, but after disagreements with the advancing Soviet forces, the NKVD purged local resistance groups.

I am glossing over a number of events that happened during this period. Give me 3 years and I could write an entire book about Rzeszów and eastern Poland during the Second World War.

After the war, the city grew quickly, accelerating after Poland joined the EU in 2004. The city has served as an incubator for tech startups, as I arrived in Rzeszow, it became very clear that G2A calls the city home, as an arena bearing that namesake is located near the airport.

A mix of soviet-style apartment blocks and newer, glass-clad towers accent the skyline. The city center is populated with a number of 16th and 17th century structures, including the Town Hall, which was renovated into its modern form in 1730. At the same time, there are signs of 2022, sharable scooters litter the sidewalk, and electronic parking meters dot the side of the road.

Today, the city has renewed its status as a crossroads. Lying on the Krakow to Lviv highway and rail lines, the city is the last major stop in Poland before the Ukrainian border, and the first city after crossing the border into Poland.

As Russia moved into Ukraine on the 24th of February, tens of thousands of Ukrainians fled through the city. Most have continued on further into Europe, but some still occupy donated hotel rooms and apartments.

The city continues with its normal hustle and bustle. Near the airport, a discount shopping center was filled on Saturday morning with a mix of locals and US personnel staying in the area.

The airport, which hosts a 3,200m runway, received a new terminal in 2012.

More on the airport and airlift in part 2.