By Cyril Josh Barker
“Heartbreak” is the word Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks uses to describe what he saw during a bipartisan delegation he led to the border of Poland and Ukraine. Meeks, who is the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the trip to assess the needs at the border, which has received the largest influx of refugees fleeing Ukraine.
Meeks was joined by Representatives Michael McCaul (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Ann Wagner (R-MO), David Cicilline (D-RI), Brian Fitzpatrick, (R-PA), Susan Wild (D-PA), and Raul Ruiz (D-CA).
During the three-day trip last weekend, the delegation met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Poland Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, national and local and Polish officials, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, and Ukrainian civil society activists. The delegation also received briefings from the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division and met with U.S. service members.
This is Meek’s second trip to Eastern Europe this year. Prior to the attack, he led a congressional delegation to Ukraine in February.
Earlier this month, the House voted to pass a bill, supporting the people of Ukraine, introduced by Meeks and Victoria Spartz (R-IN), who is Ukrainian-born.
The bill, H.Res 956, has several provisions, including shedding light on the horrific acts committed by the Russian president Vladimir Putin regime and Russian military in Ukraine, demanding an immediate ceasefire and full withdrawal of Russian forces from sovereign Ukrainian territory, and backing additional coordinated sanctions to hold Putin and Russia accountable.
“In this dark time, the United States has helped usher unprecedented amounts of assistance from the United States, Europe, our allies and partners around the world, from North America to the Indo-Pacific, to aid Ukraine in defense of its nation,” Meeks said on the House floor ahead of the vote. “I believe we must sustain that assistance for as long as Ukrainians fight for a democratic future, free from Russian oppression. The defensive security assistance we have provided and continue to provide Ukraine to help fend off its autocratic invader is critical.”
In an interview with the AmNews, Meeks described scenes of mostly women, older men, and children streaming through the Polish border in the cold with a few of their belongings trying to escape the terror they left behind in the Ukraine. Men ages 18 to 60 and women with medical backgrounds are required to stay to support the fight and are not allowed to cross the border.
“There’s more coming, and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better,” Meeks said. “The individuals that we’re coming across now seem to have had some friends or family members that live in Poland. It’s anticipated that those that are coming behind them have no one when they come there. We were told that at least another million are in the pipeline now, and many of them don’t have family members or anything of that nature.”
The AmNews has reported about the racism that many African immigrants in the Ukraine are facing while trying to flee the country. Africans at train stations were prevented from getting onboard trains and being told they would have to walk to Poland. Meeks said finding out more about what’s being done about racism was a priority.
“The government of Poland put out a nondiscrimination policy for individuals crossing the border,” Meeks said. “They’re trying to get some other folks in there to prevent these others that were preventing folks from getting on the train to stop that from happening.”
During his meetings with Secretary Blinken and Ambassador Brzezinski, Meeks said they discussed getting more lethal weapons from Poland into Ukraine. Rather than American personnel, Ukraine needs ammunition to fight the Russians.
“We’ve got a bill that’s coming up, that we’ll be voting on as far as more dollars is concerned for the purchase of more weapons that we can send,” Meeks said. “It’s clear that all of this destruction is happening because of one man, one aggressor, in this deal. And that’s Vladimir Putin.”
The bipartisan congressional delegation’s trip is a sign of unity between Democrats and Republicans. Coupled with the nation’s division after the 2020 elections, the House has been in conflict on several issues including voting rights, infrastructure and federal spending. Meeks said both sides agreed Ukraine should not be a political issue and to come together as one voice.
“I was looking at the pictures and listening to what was going on, both talking about the possible discrimination of Africans crossing the border, but also the horrific killing of innocent lives by the hands of evil Putin, and I couldn’t sleep at night,” he said. “As chair of this committee, I had a responsibility to go see for myself what was going on. I then went to the ranking member of the committee, Mike McCaul, and said to him I wanted to go to Poland, and I wanted it to be completely bipartisan, and I wanted to make sure that we would have no disagreements, that we have one message, and we should not be playing politics and both sides.”
As for the future, Meeks said how both parties handle the Ukraine situation could lead to more partnerships.
“I think around the war and how we fight it there’ll be some more reconciliations and working together,” he said. “But there are other areas where it’s going to be a little harder to do that, because it’s basic.”
Meeks has plans to return to the Poland and Ukraine border once there is a ceasefire to help repair the lives of Ukrainians and assist them in getting back to their homes and their lives.