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U.S. Rep. Susan Wild on her trip to Poland-Ukraine border: ‘Every single one of us was in tears watching it’


The Ukrainian refugees just kept coming.

After stepping off buses, they were escorted in groups of 100 or so to the Polish border. In suitcases and garbage bags, they carried all that remained of lives that were uprooted by the war.

Women with tears on their faces clutched children, dogs and cats. The only men in the crowd were seniors or those with disabilities. The younger stayed behind to defend Ukraine against Russian invaders.

That’s what U.S. Rep. Susan Wild saw over the weekend near Rzeszow, Poland, in her duties as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She and eight colleagues went to show support, bear witness and learn how America and its allies can help.

Wild spoke with me Tuesday about what she saw and what she hopes happens next. Here are four takeaways from our conversation.

The resilience
Bedraggled. They all looked bedraggled.

The refugees could see the hot food and boxes of donated clothing and supplies awaiting them on the other side of the checkpoint. They had to have been eager. Yet there was no pushing. There was no yelling.

They waited and waited. It was 12 degrees.

“They just seemed to have this patience that I’m not sure I have ever seen anywhere,” said Wild, a Democrat from South Whitehall Township. “Maybe they were just so tired that they couldn’t even express anger or frustration at that point.”

Children were welcomed with stuffed animals and candy, something to make them smile.

“The women in particular looked exhausted and sad,” Wild said. “Most of them had left husbands, fathers, sons behind, and had no idea whether they were ever going to see them again or whether their children were ever going to see them again.

“Many of the women crossing the border, even though they had been in transit for hours by that time, were still actively crying. You could see tears running down their faces. Maybe it was relief at finally crossing into Poland. But there were lots and lots of tears.”

Even among the American observers.

“Every single one of us was in tears watching it,” Wild told me.

What we take for granted was cherished at the border.

“I saw some people clutching toothbrushes and toothpaste.”

The hospitality
The food, clothing, toys and toiletries were just the beginning of what greeted the refugees. The warmth of the Polish people went much deeper.

Cars, vans and SUVs lined the road on their side of the border. Many were waiting for relatives fleeing the war. Others were there to open their homes to anyone who needed one.

They held signs saying, “I have room for four people at my house.”

“That was really an astonishing sight, to see people welcoming total strangers,” Wild said.

“People would get off a bus and could walk over to one of these cars and ride into Poland. It’s just kind of staggering to think about the trust factor, on both sides.”

Polish mothers left strollers at the checkpoint for Ukrainian mothers.

“It’s not just government outreach, though there’s plenty of that going on,” Wild said. “It’s as though every single human being in Poland has just decided to rally around this.”

Military synergy
Wild and her counterparts, who included Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, attended Sunday morning’s briefing by the Army and its allies. For 90 minutes, they heard about casualty counts, missile strikes and other play-by-play of the war.

That was followed by a classified session led by Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan.

The troops’ mission is to show solidarity with the Ukrainian forces and to provide logistical support. As weaponry and humanitarian aid reaches the border, they make sure it gets into Ukraine.

“You didn’t know which soldiers were American and which ones were from other countries unless you knew their flags and you could identify them. The way they were all working together for this common purpose was just absolutely mind-blowing,” Wild said.

Their presence also serves as a show of force. It’s a reminder to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine isn’t alone.

“Assure and deter” is how Wild described it.

Bringing it home
On their flight home Monday, Republicans and Democrats were in agreement about what they needed to do once back at the Capitol.

“This was the finest display of bipartisanship I have ever seen,” Wild told me. “I have never seen members work across the aisle as well as we did on this trip.”

Their goal is to swiftly pass a relief package for Ukraine that includes money for military support and humanitarian assistance.

“Ukraine obviously needs a lot of help in the way of weaponry and planes but also things like helmets and bulletproof vests,” Wild said. “Most countries don’t ever have to think about their civilians having to be properly prepared for battle, but that’s what the situation is in Ukraine.”

And their goal is to tell the American people why assistance is warranted.

“We’re called upon to appropriate vast sums of money on a regular basis to direct around the world to places that sometimes taxpaying Americans can’t understand why we’re bothering to send taxpayer dollars to these places,” Wild said.

This time, the need should be obvious.

Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or paul.muschick@mcall.com.

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