Britain and America must save Europe from a humanitarian disaster
My family and I recently visited Bursa Międzyszkolna, a boarding house in Poland where around 100 tired Ukrainian women and children now live. Bringing nothing more than a suitcase with them, they left behind their lives as well as their husbands and fathers, most of whom remained to fight for Ukraine. Bursa Międzyszkolna expects many more refugees, but constant aerial fire has prevented the expected arrivals from crossing the border. In the meantime, its people are suffering and its funds are running out.
There are countless situations like Bursa Międzyszkolna across Poland and other European countries. In addition to the millions of internally displaced Ukrainians, at least 5.8 million Ukrainians have been scattered across Europe as refugees since the war began on February 24. Poland took in around 1.2 million and Germany nearly 900,000. Little Moldova received at least 83,000. The kind people of these and other nations need help with housing, food and providing medical care to the oppressed. The UK government has already generously donated £220million to help ease Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. For my part, I am deeply grateful to the British people. Now the Americans and the British must continue to come to the rescue.
As a former US Ambassador to the UK, I know that the Special Relationship is fundamentally an alliance based on an unwavering respect for human dignity. For decades, our two countries have come to the aid of humanity in its darkest hours. We fought to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, confronted terrorists after 9/11 and helped the Syrian people in this century.
We also responded to this crisis. Among many acts of mercy, refugees from Ukraine have found refuge in the more than 72,000 UK homes registered under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, while more than 100,000 have been welcomed to the United States. We must maintain our aid efforts, especially since the war – now in its sixth month – is no longer in the headlines.
This mission is deeply personal for me and my family. My wife Suzanne’s father emigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 1947, marrying her mother, a first-generation Ukrainian-American. Seeking to honor our heritage and better understand how war shattered the lives of Ukrainians, our family traveled to Poland this summer. In an orphanage, children who should be at home in Kyiv or Mariupol were playing with my sons Brick and Jack. Their faces sported the widest smiles, despite all the turmoil they endured. But beyond this moment of recreational fun, it was clear that a flood of grief is overwhelming the Ukrainians who fled the war.
Our trip has also brought us into contact with many generous and welcoming Poles who care for their beleaguered neighbors. Their passion for helping is abundant, but they need greater amounts of material support. Financial contributions of any size are welcome. All volunteer work makes a difference. I remember a quote from Winston Churchill: “The experience of a long life and the promptings of my blood”, said the great man, “have forged in me the conviction that there is nothing more important for the future of the world than fraternal solidarity. the association of our two peoples in virtuous work, both in times of war and in times of peace. The citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom must tackle this virtuous work of our time.
To help meet the immense need, my football club, the New York Jets, has pledged an initial commitment of $1 million to help the people of Ukraine. This money is being distributed in $100,000 increments to worthy organizations leading relief efforts. In June, Iga Świątek, the highest ranked female tennis player in the world, announced her intention to hold a charity tennis exhibition in Poland exactly when my family would be visiting. Inspired by his passion for Ukraine, Brick and Jack attended the exhibition and decided to allocate July’s donation to Iga’s favorite charity, United24, the official branch of the Ukrainian government responsible for collect charitable donations. The money will help fund Ohmatdyt, Kyiv’s largest children’s hospital. Further payments of $100,000 went to Plast Scouting, Razom for Ukraine and the Ukrainian Women’s National League of America, all of which are doing vital work.
In those dark days, I remember a defining moment in history when the United States and the United Kingdom joined forces to help a suffering people at the hands of Russian aggression. In 1948 and 1949, our nations airlifted 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and supplies to West Berlin, defying a Soviet blockade of the city. Just as the British and Americans came to the rescue then, we must continue to do so now. The Ukrainian people are counting on us.
Robert Wood Johnson served as US Ambassador to the UK between 2017 and 2021