Administrator Samantha Power on CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield

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For Immediate Release

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Fredricka Whitfield: Samantha Power is the current Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She is also the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador, so good to see you. 

Samantha Power: Good to see you.

Fredricka Whitfield: Before I ask you about what appears to be, you know, a refugee crisis in the making, I wonder, are you hoping for some sort of breakthrough in the scheduled talks tomorrow on the Ukraine-Belarus border?

Samantha Power: Well, I think Russia’s actions in recent days and in recent months as they built up to this invasion and the kind of fake diplomacy that was carried out by Russian officials over a long period of time as they planned to invade their neighbor, would give one grounds for pessimism. But on the other hand, there is nothing more important than diplomacy during a conflict. We see the human stakes—I saw the human stakes today in talking to those same Ukrainian refugees you just heard from coming across the border. And if this conflict continues it’s only going to get worse. So, the fact that the Ukrainians are showing up in good faith, as they have over so many years in an effort to avoid these kinds of scenarios, I think is an indicator that they’re willing to give diplomacy a chance. And we certainly support them in that pursuit.

Fredricka Whitfield: What have your conversations been like with the many people who have crossed the border? I mean the numbers are like 200,000 Ukrainians who have come into Poland. What have they been sharing with you, what have you observed in them? 

Samantha Power: Well, as somebody who’s covered a lot of refugee crises over the years, one of the most striking features of today’s population coming over is that it’s almost exclusively women and children. And this speaks to the kind of society-wide mobilization that’s occurred in Ukraine and the fact that fighting-age men are staying behind to be part of these territorial defense units, to be part of doing something—anything, as they put it, to contribute to the fight. But it was harrowing, this journey, for the families that I talked to. Women sometimes carrying toddlers and infants and then having other kids straggling behind, having to wait on the Ukrainian side of the Polish border in some cases for three of four days, sleeping on cars or buses, some sleeping on the side of the road, and it was freezing at the border today, I mean I was all bundled up and freezing and I was only out for a few hours. Imagine if you’d been out there for three or four days. So it’s very difficult on the Ukrainian side of the border because so many people are interested in leaving, and again women and children primarily, to seek safer ground. They all want to go back, I mean they all want to hear about a diplomatic breakthrough and to have the chance to return to the country that is theirs, but better safe than sorry is their logic. So we, USAID and the U.S. Government, are supporting the frontline states who are really the first responders. And it was amazing to see Polish generosity: they just opened the border, anybody from Ukraine coming in, very few questions asked, just to be as welcoming as possible. And you’ve seen that across Europe as countries are saying, come, travel for free on the train if you have a Ukrainian ID, no problem. You can come to Germany, you don’t have to pay the train fare and you can come and reside here. So Europe is treating Ukraine as the European nation that Ukraine has been struggling and building to become. 

Fredricka Whitfield: You had mentioned that a lot of people you talked to, I mean they want to go back. They want to return to their homes to Ukraine. Did any of them seem to convey any confidence that they do see, in realistic terms, that they will get a chance to go back home. 

Samantha Power: What I heard a lot about was sort of how inspired they were by the courage that their countrymen and women, and probably their own family members, were showing. So there was a sort of pride, a defiance, that same resilience that we’ve seen from Ukrainians over so many generations, but really tested in a whole new way. But also, even four days later still just the shock of it. The shock that Russia could do such a thing. And no matter how many times American diplomats or President Biden warned that this could come, it’s just—it’s so unthinkable that your neighbor could do this to you. And that was the language that I heard a lot, it’s just ‘Russia, why?’ And also even heard some sympathy for Russian soldiers who themselves had been conscripted. You know, refugees talking about how little those soldiers knew about what they’d been sent to do. And so interestingly, at least for some, an ability to kind of distinguish Putin and his generals and what they’re ordering, from ordinary Russians. 

Fredricka Whitfield: I wonder if that makes it more believable to hear the Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., who said they have record of a number of Russian troops who actually surrendered. 

Samantha Power: Well, again I can’t confirm that, but I can say that hope springs eternal. And particularly when you’ve left your husband or your father behind, all you want is a diplomatic process that’s going to bear fruit. And no matter what Putin shows of his bad faith and his capacity for lying and creating false predicates and so forth for this brutality, just the desire to go home, the desire to return to peace is the most overriding sentiment you hear.  

Fredricka Whitfield: Ambassador Samantha Power, great talking to you, thank you so much.

Samantha Power: Thank you. 

Last updated: November 21, 2022

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