Biden in Poland to see US troops and Ukrainian refugees
RZESZOW, Poland — President Joe Biden visited US troops stationed near the Poland-Ukraine border on Friday and got a glimpse of the growing humanitarian response to the millions of Ukrainians fleeing to Poland to escape Russia’s assault on their homeland.
Biden’s first stop was with members of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, visiting a barber shop and restaurant set up for the troops, where he invited himself to sit down and share a pizza. Americans serve alongside Polish troops.
He arrived Friday afternoon at the airport in Rzeszow, the largest city in southeastern Poland, where some US troops are based.
With the troops, he shared an anecdote about visiting his late son, Beau Biden, while deployed in Baghdad and bearing his mother’s maiden name so as not to draw attention to himself. The president jokingly joked with a service member about his standard short haircut and also gave serious praise to the troops.
“You are the best fighting force in the world and that’s not hyperbole,” Biden said before sitting down in a folding chair to eat with the group.
He will be in Warsaw on Saturday for talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda and others. The Polish leader was due to greet Biden at the airport on Friday, but his plane was delayed by a technical problem.
According to the European Union, some 3.5 million Ukrainians, half of them children, fled the country, and more than 2.2 million ended up in Poland.
The US Congress this month approved spending of more than $13 billion for humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine. The administration has begun to allocate these funds.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden would hear directly from US troops and humanitarian experts about the situation on the ground and “what additional steps need to be taken to ensure that we invest.” US dollars in the right place.
Biden, who spent Thursday pressing US allies to remain united against Russia, speculated that what he sees in Poland will “reinforce my commitment to the United States ensuring that we are also a major element in the relocation of all these people”. because humanitarian aid is needed both inside and outside Ukraine.
Speaking in Brussels after meetings with other world leaders, Biden said he had visited many war zones and refugee camps during his political career and “it’s devastating” to see young children without parents or men and women with blank looks on their faces wondering, “My God, where am I? What will happen to me?
He said Poland, Romania and Germany should not be left on their own to deal with Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
“This is an international responsibility,” Biden said shortly after announcing an additional $1 billion in aid to help Ukrainian refugees. He also announced that the United States would welcome up to 100,000 of these refugees. The White House said most Ukrainian refugees ultimately want to return home.
Biden said the United States is obligated to “step up and do everything in our power to alleviate the suffering and pain of innocent women, children and men” crossing the border.
He said, “I’m planning on trying to see these people…I hope I can see a lot of people.”
Some refugees interviewed at Przemysl train station in Poland on Friday said they hoped to eventually return to Ukraine. They also weren’t very optimistic about Biden’s visit.
“I sure don’t have any expectations” about Biden, a tearful Ira Satula, 32, of Kremenchug said. Satula was grateful for all the support and warm welcome from Poland.
“But home is home, and hopefully we’ll be there soon,” Satula said.
Olga Antonovna, 68, of Chernigov, said “it’s really 50-50” that Biden will help enough.
“I think we needed help a long time ago, long before,” she said.
Sullivan said Biden will deliver a speech Saturday on “the issues of this moment, the urgency of the challenge ahead of us, what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world.”
Superville reported from Washington. Associated Press video reporter Srdjan Nedeljkovic in Przemysl, Poland, contributed to this report.