“Slowly but surely, the room started to ring out with laughter…”

While volunteering on the Polish border of Ukraine, Archie Manners finds that magic is a universal language — and a tiny respite for the young victims of war

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On one side of the room is a man in a towel, putting a coin in his locker, about to leave after his afternoon swim. On the other, a family is queuing, looking like they’re checking in for a flight, complete with heavy bags and a grumpy teenager. 

This is a swimming complex in Lublin, a Polish town about 60 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The family isn’t here for a flight – they’re checking in for an indefinite stay in the Sports Hall, which they will now call home, having escaped the horrors of the war in Ukraine.  A Polish volunteer asks for what little documentation they have, fills in various forms, and asks them to follow him to their new accommodation.  

I am now first in line. I get out my phone and hit play on my pre-typed Google Translate message. The Google-voice reads, in bit-part Polish:

‘Hello, my name is Archie and I am a magician from London. I have come to Lublin to perform for the Ukrainian refugees that are here, and wondered if I could come in and show the children some magic tricks’.

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