NOSEen Humvee drives through the Polish city
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 15:23
reporter Central and Eastern Europe
reporter Central and Eastern Europe
A group of six men are eating at the Texas Steakhouse. Burgers, steaks and fries are on the table. They are clearly US military. With the country music in the background you would almost forget you are in Poland. When I address the military, they freeze. Because they don’t want to talk to a journalist.
Neither do most international guests in the center of Rzeszow. You come across them everywhere. “Foreigners? No, I haven’t seen them,” says an American with a mustache and an arm full of tattoos. The colleagues with whom he is sitting on the terrace burst out laughing.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Rzeszow, in southeastern Poland, was a quiet provincial town. Now it is known as the gateway to war. The city has the nearest major airport and is an hour’s drive from the border with Ukraine. Regular air traffic over Ukraine has been halted. Military equipment, humanitarian aid and important diplomatic traffic all pass through Rzeszow.
NOS / Stijn Postmus
The airport nowadays looks more like a military base. Humvees and other military vehicles tour around. Forklift trucks with military equipment for Ukraine drive onto the road under police escort.
From the road you can see that eight Patriot anti-aircraft systems are stationed along the runway. Since nothing has been done to camouflage the advanced weaponry, it seems to be a clear signal for Russia. Even if we are sent away within five minutes when we film from the public road.
NOSE One of the many Patriot installations at the airport
Not shy of a chat is Dray from South Carolina. He works for a company that provides logistical support to the military. He can’t say much more about it. He has been living in Rzeszow for a few months now. Looking over a menu from the Texas Steakhouse, Dray concludes that it’s a good place to be.
“You have good restaurants, you can go out and it’s clean,” he says. He does not know how long Dray will stay in Rzeszow. “It would be for a year at first, but it now looks like it will be five years sooner.”
Yes, many more kitchens have steak on the menu since the war, says Mayor Konrad Fiole. And not only the restaurants are busy, also the hotels, shops and fitness centers. In addition, there are 30,000 Ukrainian refugees living in Rzeszow out of a population of less than 200,000. Together with the military and employees of international organizations, this ensures that it is a lot busier in the city.
Fiole takes into account that this will remain the case for the time being. “We need to mentally prepare our citizens to continue to play a strategic role as a hub for relief supplies and military support for Ukraine in the coming years.”
The mayor recognizes that this makes the city a possible target. Russian secret services have shown interest in Rzeszow over the past year. The municipality has been the target of cyber attacks on several occasions. In March, six foreigners were arrested who allegedly spied for Russia.
“We also have to get used to being in the center of attention now,” says Fiole. He can’t suppress a smile, because his job has become a lot more exciting. He is regularly invited to Brussels or other European capitals. And the city is constantly receiving high-ranking visitors in transit – including President Zelensky and President Biden.
NOSPizza ‘Spicy Joe’
They know all about that in pizzeria Gusto, just outside the city. Also on this terrace is a group of Americans for lunch, this time in uniform. They can barely handle the orders here. Owner Damian Drupka gives orders to the staff in the kitchen and takes a ‘Spicy Joe’ pizza out of the oven.
This one has been renamed after the most important client in his life: President Joe Biden. When the American leader visited American soldiers in Rzeszow a few months ago, he ate this pizza from pizzaria Gusto. “He was a very good customer,” says Drupka proudly, showing a photo of Biden eating the pizza.
Turnover has increased by a quarter, says Drupka. Also because many Poles are curious about the Spicy Joe with olives, salami and jalapenos. With a few strokes, Drupka cuts the pizza into pieces. In the center he places a small American flag.