Poland has taken in about 2 million Ukrainians fleeing the war Russia is waging in their country, and the country has managed to do it without building a single refugee camp, the Polish ambassador to the United States said.
Most of the refugees are being hosted by Polish families, Ambassador Marek Magierowski told the National Lieutenant Governors Association in April, calling it “a remarkable outpouring of sympathy towards our Ukrainian brethren.”
When you are alone in such a situation, it means a lot for your morale if somebody comes and gives you a hand. —Tone Kajzer, Slovenian ambassador to the United States
Magierowski said the Polish government has allowed refugees to work, start businesses and enroll their children in schools. There’s still plenty to do to resettle them—they need more teachers, for instance, who speak Russian and Ukrainian—and he said Poland is reaching its limit on how many it can fully help.
Magierowski and the Slovenian ambassador to the U.S., Tone Kajzer, were invited to speak to the group to foster communication on trade, climate and the pandemic. When the meeting was planned last fall, no one expected a war, refugees and sanctions against Russia would be the focus.
“Having these international relationships is really important, when you’re looking at the energy needs, with Russia being sanctioned and a looming food crisis and the refugee crisis,” Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long said.
States Lend a Hand
Several states have made a point to offer support for Ukrainian refugees. An estimated 5.4 million have fled the country, and the Biden administration has said it will accept 100,000 to the U.S. and provide $1 billion in humanitarian aid to help support refugees in Europe.
Lt. Gov. Craig Blair of West Virginia said he’d like to bring all 100,000 to his state.
“We have job opportunities in the state of West Virginia,” he said. “We also in a lot of parts of the state have a situation where we could use students in the classroom. We’ve got a history of doing this, whether it’s Italian, Irish, Lebanese.”
Blair is also exploring plans to expand production of crop fertilizer in West Virginia to offset shortages since Russia is the largest exporter of fertilizer, and sanctions will affect not only fertilizer but also the availability of wheat and other grains.
Magierowski said countries in the region have been warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin is dangerous, and he urged nations to prepare to sustain sanctions for the long term. He mentioned that after 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, other nations quickly restored normal relations.
“We should be very determined not only to uphold these sanctions for many years to come, but also we should try to make those sanctions as crippling as possible for the Russian economy, because we cannot allow Putin to have those resources to finance his war chest,” he said.
He noted that Poland is taking strong steps to wean itself off Russian natural gas by the fall of this year to cut off one more economic benefit to Russia. Russia has since said it will cut off Poland immediately because it has not met Russia’s demands to pay for the fuel in rubles.
Alliance Yields Hope
Magierowski said he had experienced communist rule when he was growing up Poland and wants to ensure it doesn’t spread again. He wants to see Russia forced to rebuild Ukraine and to be tried for war crimes.
Kajzer urged states to keep up any kind of support. Just 11 years ago, his country was invaded by the Yugoslav army after it declared independence in what became known as the Ten Day War. He said it was devastating to the country and yet so much less intense than what Ukraine is going through.
“We were also alone. And when you are alone in such a situation, it means a lot for your morale if somebody comes and gives you a hand,” he said.
Magierowski said the alliance of nations sanctioning Russia and supporting Ukraine gives him hope. So does the powerful stand Ukrainians are making in this war.
“Two weeks ago. I didn’t believe in a possibility of crushing the Russian army in Ukraine,” he said. “Now, I do.”
Kelley Griffin is a writer and editor at NCSL.