Lukasz Lazarczyk, a 2019 Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate, is fulfilling a long-held dream of living in Poland, while pursuing a degree in European politics and economics at the University of Warsaw. For several months he has been photographing rallies for Euromaidan, a Warsaw-based initiative that has been supporting Ukraine’s integration with Europe since 2013.
“I have always felt very Polish and very connected with my Polish family. I knew in high school that I wanted to study European politics, and I considered no country other than Poland in which I wanted to study. I applied to a couple other Polish universities and a few American universities—but mainly just to appeal to my parents,” Lazarczyk said.
Lazarczyk’s father is from Poland and came to the U.S. in the 1980s, following the mass protests led by Solidarity, a trade union movement, that overthrew the Communist government. His great aunt had come to the U.S. in the 1950s to escape Communism. Lazarczyk visited Poland several times with his family and stayed with his grandmother in Poznan for three weeks when he was a teenager. The experience confirmed his desire to someday live for a more extended time in the country. He started taking Polish language lessons during his freshman year of high school, as a birthday present to himself.
According to Lazarczyk, politics in Poland are just as divisive for sociological reasons as they are in the U.S., with rural populations leaning right and the cities leaning left. He advises that while Polish society leans fairly conservative, the 2020 presidential election was very close, with the current president, Andrzej Duda, beating his challenger by only slightly more than 1% of the vote. Lazarcyzk has been studying the growth of global populism and what makes populist politicians so effective.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has been a great concern for Lazarcyzk and his friends, most of whom are Ukrainian. He regularly attended protests outside the Russian embassy, in solidarity with his friends and their cause, and took photos and videos of the action. Euromaidan has been sharing his work on Instagram.
“In recent days, with Ukrainian forces advancing, there seems to be greater optimism about the situation in Ukraine — although there is concern about Putin’s annexation of Ukrainian territory. A friend of mine, who lives in western Ukraine, told me that he had a backpack filled with essentials in case Russia launched a nuclear strike on his city. That is their reality,” Lazarcyzk said.
Following graduation, Lazarcyzk would like to pursue a master’s degree, although he doesn’t have a master plan at this point. He is adamant that he doesn’t want to be a politician but would enjoy being a political analyst or a professor.
He hasn’t decided how long he will remain in Poland. He enjoys the lifestyle and the walkability of Warsaw and claims he hasn’t driven a car in more than a year. He admits that one definite benefit of living in Poland is that everyone knows how to pronounce his name.
“It’s difficult for English speakers to pronounce my last name — it’s a small thing that you really appreciate when you live somewhere where everyone can pronounce your name without any problems,” he said.
To see a collection of Lazarczyk’s photos, including landscapes and street scenes, check out his website at Lukaszlazarczyk.myportfolio.com.