US ambassador calls Poland “humanitarian superpower” for response to Ukraine crisis

Poland is a “humanitarian superpower” for the outpouring of support its people have shown to refugees from Ukraine, says US ambassador Mark Brzezinski. He suggests that this year’s Time “Person of the Year” award be given jointly to President Volodymyr Zelensky and to “young Poles organising aid for Ukrainians”.

“On behalf of President Biden, thank you, Poland, for what you’re doing to address the crisis in Ukraine,” said Brzezinski during a speech at the University of Warsaw, quoted by TVN24.

“I thank the young Polish people for organising on social media to make trips to the border, to pick up families from there and take care of those families,” added the ambassador, who took up his role earlier this year. “You are our heroes…I’m proud to be ambassador to a humanitarian superpower.”

Immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Polish local and state institutions, NGOs, religious organisations and individual citizens mobilised to collect donations, offer transport and accommodation, and provide a range of other forms of assistance.

At crowded train stations, Poles handed out hot meals, prepared for free by local restaurants, helped carry bags and baby strollers, and offered other small favours. Some dressed up as dinosaurs or superheroes and handed out sweets to children. Others helped to rescue animals from war zones.

Many Polish citizens have decided to take in not only relatives and friends from Ukraine, but also strangers fleeing the Russian invasion. Last month, the government estimated that around 600,000 refugees were benefiting from state payments to households hosting them.

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Poland has been the primary destination for refugees, with almost 3.2 million people crossing its border from Ukraine since the start of the war.

Estimates by the government, the Union of Polish Metropolises and the Centre of Migration Research at the University of Warsaw indicate that between 1.5 and 2 million remain in Poland.

A poll conducted in six Western countries in March showed their citizens shared the US ambassador’s positive assessment of Poland’s role in helping refugees.

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The Polish opposition, however, has pointed out that much of the weight of helping refugees has fallen on local authorities, NGOs and individuals. They accuse the government of failing to provide enough support.

Nevertheless, a poll last month showed that around two thirds of Poles positively assess the government’s actions on the international stage during the war in Ukraine, as the country became one of the most vocal advocates for sanctions on Moscow and support for Kyiv.

In his speech, Brzezinski condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it “an unjustifiable war against innocent citizens”.

“Darkness, anxiety, desperation, misunderstanding, pain, anger, rage, fear have come,” said the ambassador. “Through it all, however, we see rays of hope. We also see determination, and we see the West united as it has never been united before.”

Can Poland turn its new humanitarian soft power into hard economic or military benefits?

Main image credit: Wojtek Radwanski/EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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