Rep. Chellie Pingree, who is in Eastern Europe as part of a fact-finding delegation, said she has seen wrenching scenes at the train station in the border town of Przemysl, Poland, where 50,000 Ukrainian war refugees have been arriving daily.

At the Przemysl border crossing, 220 miles southeast of Warsaw, the refugees – most of them women and children – seek shelter in a converted warehouse or move on to the ornate city train station on their way to unite with friends and family members living elsewhere in Poland or Europe.

“Many of them are headed to other European countries where they might have a cousin or a friend, but mostly it’s just heartbreaking – it’s outrageous,” Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, said via telephone from a country in Eastern Europe she could not identify for security reasons. “You really get a sense that Putin is a war criminal and his actions every single day to target civilians and schools and hospitals and women and children and to not let humanitarian aid flow into the country or people to come out show that.”

Pingree is part of a small delegation comprising six bipartisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pingree’s visit to Poland followed that of a 10-person U.S. Senate delegation that included Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine.

During the first leg of her trip, Pingree met with Yarmouth chef Christian Hayes, who has been volunteering at a relief kitchen near the border in Przemysl. Hayes, the owner of The Garrison, Thoroughfare and Dandelion Catering Co., has been helping cook 100,000 meals a day for refugees with the nonprofit group World Central Kitchen.

“It’s people like Christian who make me proud to be a Mainer,” Pingree said. “He dropped everything to come help the people of Ukraine during this ongoing tragedy.”


During a visit to the World Central Kitchen meal preparation site in Przemyśl, Poland, Rep. Chellie Pingree met with Yarmouth-based chef Christian Hayes. Hayes and the team of chefs who have volunteered in the relief kitchen, located just a few miles from the Ukraine border, cook 100,000 meals a day for the thousands of Ukrainians crossing the border. Photo courtesy of Rep. Pingree

The House delegation, which is led by Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and consists of three Republicans and three Democrats, also received briefings at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, met with soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division deployed in Poland, and visited a refugee assistance center and Ukrainian civil society groups in Warsaw.


Collins and King returned Sunday night from their separate whirlwind fact-finding trip, which took them to Berlin, the 82nd Airborne’s Polish deployment site and Mlyny, a border town 20 miles north of Przemysl that also has been helping tens of thousands of refugees make their way into Europe.

Reached by telephone in Washington on Monday, Collins said the most memorable conversation of her trip had been with Katrina, a young Ukrainian mother sheltering at Mlyny’s refugee welcome center – a converted shopping center – with her 6- and 8-year-old children. Her husband had stayed behind to defend their country.

“She told me that she has never lived anywhere but Ukraine and all she wanted was to live in peace in her country and keep her children safe, but because she couldn’t keep her children safe she was forced to leave,” Collins recalled. “She has no idea when she will be reunited with her husband or even if she will be reunited because he is fighting the Russians.

“It was so poignant because it shows the human side of this war and the terrible toll it is taking every day on people in Ukraine.”


Collins expressed concern about the speed at which arms from the U.S. and Western Europe were being delivered to Ukraine and the continued delay in providing fighter jets and antiaircraft systems designed to hit high-altitude aircraft. “They are using up their weapon systems fast and every moment of every hour of every day that there isn’t antiaircraft capacity there are hundreds or thousands more Ukrainians dying, especially now that Putin is targeting theaters and schools and hospitals and apartment buildings,” she said.

She said the German and Polish officials they met were “really worried that Putin is not going to stop with Ukraine. It might not be this year, but if he’s successful in crushing Ukraine and taking it back into Russia I think he’ll move on to Moldova,” she said, referring to the former Soviet republic sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine that is not a member of NATO.


Reached by telephone Monday evening, King said the biggest thing the delegation had come away with was the urgency of keeping military and humanitarian aid flowing to Ukraine on a timely basis. “This is a day-to-day thing and we can’t let bureaucracy slow it down,” he said. King disagreed about the wisdom of sending fighter aircraft, however, saying that they would have little effect.

“The vast majority of the damage we’re seeing on TV to civilian infrastructure, buildings, schools and libraries is being done by missiles and artillery, not by bombs dropped by airplanes,” King said. “So a no-fly zone (maintained by Ukrainians) would not be that effective because it wouldn’t affect missiles and artillery, but it would be potentially escalatory. The benefit does not outweigh the risk.”

King added that he remained convinced Putin had lost the war in the sense that it had backfired on him in terms of its two key aims: absorbing Ukraine and dividing NATO and the western alliance. “He has given a sense of Ukrainian nationalism that will last for generations, and the unity of the NATO alliance – the military people we talked to said they’ve never seen anything like it.”


Collins also said she thought there was a great level of bipartisan agreement in Congress on the need to help Ukraine and oppose Russia’s invasion. “The fact that 10 bipartisan senators made this trip to me sends a strong signal to Putin that Congress is united.”

Pingree shared this sentiment.

“I’m on a trip with three Republican members who I really wouldn’t get a chance to know, but we are all very much thinking the same way about this situation,” Pingree said. “And I think people generally are thinking about things like what does it mean to be a democracy; what does a free press mean; about a lot of foundational principles.”

The delegation will continue visiting front-line countries in Eastern Europe through Thursday, although its exact itinerary is not being disclosed for security reasons.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, said he would have liked to have attended as well but was unable to do so because of his recent COVID-19 diagnosis. The Marine Corps veteran said he is staying closely apprised of the situation as a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He also has been pushing the Biden administration to implement sanctions on other countries still doing business with Russia and to provide fighter jets and antiaircraft defense systems to Ukraine.

“Putin is someone challenging what he views as the post-Cold War world order and he sees this situation as a chance to test that out,” Golden said via telephone. “This could have an outsized impact on the world and our country, and all of our lives and is a very serious situation.

“We should always strive to avoid any war to the greatest extent possible. But the stakes here are really high … and we’re already providing a lot of resources to the Ukrainian military, but I don’t think we want to just do that to cause a bloody stalemate in Eastern Europe.”

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