U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan of Westford spent last weekend in Poland witnessing the situation of Ukrainian refugees who have been granted asylum status in Poland.
Since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, Poland has welcomed nearly two million Ukrainians fleeing the war. These numbers do not include the millions of Ukrainians who have already sought asylum in the country since the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2014.
“I spent the weekend in Poland for the first stop of our bipartisan CODEL to Ukrainian border countries,” Trahan tweeted. “The footage all of us have seen of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives over the past three weeks has been difficult to watch, but being on the ground is truly heartbreaking.”
During her visit, Trahan was joined by fellow Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch and several other U.S. lawmakers, where they met a group of refugees residing in Rzeszów, a city in southeastern Poland which is just over 100 km (63 miles) from the Ukrainian border.
“Shortly after arriving in Poland, we met with Polish and Ukrainian NGOs spearheading the humanitarian response here on the ground,” Trahan said. “We visited Torwar Refugee Assistance Center, where Polish authorities are helping the 1.7 million+ refugees who have entered the country already.”
The lawmakers also visited a refugee assistance center in Przemyśl, another border city just under 15 km (9 miles) from Ukraine, which has become a major entry point for Ukrainian refugees coming into the country.
Trahan has been an outspoken critic of the war since it began. Last month, she condemned Russia’s government and its military for violating international law by invading a sovereign nation.
She has also referred to President Vladimir Putin as a “rogue, power hungry dictator”, and called on the U.S. federal government to send arms and humanitarian support to Ukraine, as well as place economic sanctions on Russia.
“Putin’s cruel and immoral war has had consequences many of us could never fathom,” Trahan said. “The world has an obligation to be here to support these incredibly brave Ukrainians doing everything in their power to defend their freedom and democracy.”
Trahan has also said that Massachusetts should be a national leader in supporting Ukraine and accepting Ukrainian refugees, and that she would support President Biden’s decision to ban the import of Russian oil and other products.
Rafał Fryc, a Polish-American international relations student at Suffolk University, who is originally from Rzeszów explained that tensions are currently high in Poland regarding the future of the conflict in neighboring Ukraine, and that Poles have been doing everything they can to support Ukrainian refugees coming to their country.
“The current situation is getting worse, since there are a lot more people trying to cross the border,” Fryc said. “Poland has been constantly taking in refugees since 2014, and I have seen the situation myself since my family is from near the border with Ukraine. There are constantly buses bringing in refugees from across the border, and now I imagine there are a lot more buses.”
According to Fryc, as of last week there has been a huge military buildup around his hometown, with Polish and American soldiers conducting live training drills nearly every day, and residents reporting the constant sound of tanks and gunfire.
“I have spoken to all of my family members back in Poland and they all agreed that this [invasion] is not going to stop in Ukraine,” Fryc said. “Should Putin take all of Ukraine, then Poland is next, and because of that, I think Poland should be getting ready for a full-scale invasion just as we have seen in Ukraine.”
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