March 13, 2022 — Warsaw, Poland
“We are here to bear witness,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris declared at a refugee reception center in Dorohusk, Poland, on the border with Ukraine. “We will not stand on the sidelines while this tragedy unfolds. One man, megalomaniac President Vladimir Putin, has created this human drama of biblical scale, turning the lives of millions of Ukrainians upside down. Putin is guilty of war crimes.”
Harris led an AJC group to Poland on a three-day visit to demonstrate solidarity with Ukrainians who have fled their country, seeking safety in Poland and other neighboring countries. He saluted the many Polish volunteers, who have been setting up tents, providing basic sanitary and food supplies, as well as opened their homes to some refugees.
“What’s amazing is how the Polish people have organized to help,” said Harris at a Warsaw train station where refugees are receiving humanitarian relief and guidance for resettling. “It’s inspiring. It’s the true meaning of humanity.”
In addition to Dorohusk, the AJC group visited border crossing reception centers at Zosin and Horodło, mostly set up and operated by Polish NGOs and volunteers, and two sites in Warsaw run by the Jewish Community of Warsaw.
The AJC group met in Warsaw with Wojciech Kolarski, State Secretary at the Office of Polish President Andrzej Duda, with Israeli Ambassador Yacov Livne, and local Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Community of Warsaw, JDC, and the Jewish Agency for Israel (Sochnut).
More than 1.5 million Ukrainians already have entered Poland by car, bus, and foot, and the numbers are expected to rise as the Russian invasion of independent, democratic Ukraine continues, prompting millions to leave. “These are largely people stunned,” said Harris. “At one moment they were living in their homes in Ukraine. The next moment they are here in Poland, beginning an uncertain new life, and, in many cases, they had to leave with nothing.”
Nearly all the refugees are women and children, as men ages 18-60 must remain in Ukraine to defend their country against the Russian invasion and indiscriminate shelling, bombing, and killing. “Most painful is to see the children,” said Harris. An estimated one million of the total Ukrainian refugees to date are children.
“Poland has welcomed the lion share of refugees,” said Sebastian Rejak, Acting Director of AJC Central Europe. Others have gone to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova and Romania. “Will other European countries step up? We need the solidarity of western Europe in accepting refugees,” Rejak added.
Harris, who speaks Russian, said he heard “powerful and heartbreaking” stories from the Ukrainians he encountered. “The refugees we met believe Ukraine will win this war. They are fighting not only for their homeland. They are fighting for their lives.”
Joining Harris on the AJC mission were Sebastian Rejak, Acting Director of AJC Central Europe, Jillian Laskowitz, Chief of Staff to AJC CEO Harris, Julie Lenarz, AJC Director of Social Media, and Aldona Zawada, AJC Central Europe Office and Events Manager.
AJC’s #StandWithUkraine fund has raised more than $800,000. The AJC group met with several organizations during the visit to Poland and soon will be announcing additional recipients of grants from the AJC fund. The first recipient was IsraAID, which currently is working with Ukrainian refugees in Moldova.