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US top diplomat in Poland amid refugee crisis

March 5, 2022

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has praised Poland for its "vital work" in responding to a migration crisis triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a media conference with Poland's foreign minister
Blinken has vowed US support for allies such as Poland, as Russia's assault on Ukraine continuesImage: Olivier Douliery/AP/picture alliance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Poland on Saturday, where he met with the country's prime minister and foreign minister in a Polish city near the Ukrainian border. Blinken also crossed into Ukraine during talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

What do we know so far?

The visit comes as Poland has seen an unprecedented wave of Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing their homeland as a result of Russia's invasion.

"Poland is doing vital work to respond to this crisis... It has done a great deal to facilitate security assistance to Ukraine," Blinken said at a joint news conference with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau in the city of Rzeszow.

"The people of Poland know how important it is to defend freedom," he added.

Rau said Poland was committed to welcoming refugees regardless of nationality, race and religion. "The attack on Ukraine already transformed Europe and its sense of security," he said.

Blinken held a press conference along with Poland's Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau (right)
Blinken (left) held a joint press conference near the border along with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew RauImage: Olivier Douliery/AP/picture alliance

Since launching an invasion on February 24, Russia has maintained it is only conducting "a special military operation" in Ukraine. But its troops are now threatening Ukraine's major cities, and its forces are attempting to encircle the capital in an effort to take it. 

Blinken arrived in Poland from Brussels, where he was meeting with foreign ministers from the NATO military alliance, the G7 and the EU, to discuss efforts to deter Russia through a system of harsh sanctions.

So far, NATO members have provided military aid to Ukraine, with much of the assistance passing through Poland.

But the alliance has declined Ukrainian demands to enforce a no-fly zone over the country. NATO fears a no-fly zone could provoke a much broader and even more dangerous conflict.

Ukranian residents flee to Poland

Blinken, Kuleba walk into Ukraine

Crossing the border into Ukraine, Blinken praised Kuleba, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials for their courage and "inspiring" leadership. He said US support for Ukraine and pressure on Russia would increase "until this war of choice is brought to an end."

Kuleba thanked the US top diplomat for the support, adding that Ukraine needed more if his country's predicted victory was not to come at too high a cost. He lamented that NATO on Friday had rejected appeals from nonmember Ukraine and others to set up a no-fly zone over the country.

"We are now in the phase where maybe saying 'No, we're not going to do that,' but the time will come," Kuleba said. "It's again the issue of price. It is the people of Ukraine who will pay the price for the reluctance of NATO to act.''

Blinken meets with refugees

The top diplomat visited a welcome center in the town of Korczowa, near the border with Ukraine, which was set up by Polish authorities to house some 3,000 Ukrainian refugees

Washington has said it's preparing to set aside some $2.75 billion (€2.5 billion) for Ukraine's humanitarian crisis.

Anthony Blinken touring a reception center in the town of Korczowa, surrounded by people
Blinken toured the reception center in the town of Korczowa on SaturdayImage: Olivier Douliery/AP/picture alliance

Blinken spoke with some of the refugees and heard harrowing tales of a perilous journey out of Ukraine from mothers and their children.

A family from Kharkiv told Blinken they had traveled some 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) to Poland from the besieged city, where they said they witnessed shooting on the streets.

Another family that met Blinken said they had walked for hours escaping Kyiv, where they had witnessed the city being bombed.

The UN has said that over a million people have left Ukraine, with more than 700,000 currently in Poland.

Ukrainian refugees with a mission

jcg/wd (AP, Reuters)