Interview: Administrator Samantha Power’s Interview with PBS News Hour’s Nick Schifrin

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Monday, February 28, 2022

February 28, 2022
Brussels, Belgium

MR. SCHIFRIN: Ambassador Samantha Power, welcome back to the NewsHour. How large is this humanitarian crisis? And how dire are the conditions facing many of these Ukrainians who are trying to flee?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think you've seen it firsthand, we now have more than half a million who've crossed just in a matter of a few days. And the numbers that are trying to cross every day are growing and are likely to continue to grow, as now a humanitarian corridor and travel corridor out of the capital has been created. So, there'll be an even greater surge to the border. In terms of conditions, I think the front-line states, those countries bordering Ukraine, including Poland, where I've just come from, are doing everything in their power to position everything from diapers and strollers to hot meals to water to warm blankets. But the real challenge is on the Ukrainian side of the border, where people are just backing up. 

MR. SCHIFRIN: Even before Ukrainians get to the border, as you were saying before, and as we certainly have seen firsthand, it is incredibly difficult, whether in line right near the Polish border, or even finding trains and cars to leave Kyiv and head to the west or to other borders. What work can the US help Ukraine to try and ease some of the crunch of all of these Ukrainians trying to get out of the country?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me just say that we are in very close touch with the Ukrainian government. I will say as we talk to Ukrainian officials, they're often running into and out of bomb shelters, as they gather needs from across the country. So, you know, you have each of the towns have their own very specific needs, but they are trying to centralize the list of needs and to channel them again through the Ukrainian authorities. And so that system has been set up, we are getting those lists and we're aiming to respond to those needs. Part of the challenge that we're dealing with is many humanitarian workers, Ukrainians, are themselves sheltering in place and unable to be as mobile as they would have been a week ago, or as they have been now for many years in the East, where the prior acts of Russian aggression occurred. 

MR. SCHIFRIN: Poland already has 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, and the Polish government has been criticized in the past for how it has treated refugees. From what you saw, is Poland welcoming Ukrainian refugees?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: They have basically said, you are welcome here. If you want to apply for refugee status, here's the path to do that. Here are the benefits you will receive while you wait to have your asylum claim adjudicated. But if you don't, if you want to stay here for a little while and move on to Germany or join up with family somewhere beyond, that's fine, too. They are scrambling at the highest levels of the Polish government to try to think about how to get more humanitarian assistance into people on the Ukrainian side who are waiting and beyond, of course—our broader Ukraine-wide humanitarian effort. And they're scrambling to open up more crossing points. And they're mobilizing Polish citizens who haven't needed much of a nudge to be mobilized. 

MR. SCHIFRIN: We personally witnessed Polish authorities and police welcoming those Ukrainians. But we did see a couple of examples of Africans and Arabs who left Ukraine being surrounded by Polish police. We were told that some of those Africans didn't have documents. But have you heard anything? Or are you worried about any kind of double standard? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think it's absolutely essential that anybody fleeing Ukraine and the violence is treated with dignity and respect and according to their basic human rights, and we've seen those reports as well. I will say the Polish authorities that we spoke with, including from the Ministry of the Interior, and the border police, are very alert to these allegations, and are getting the message out that everybody who's coming is fleeing Russian aggression and violence. And we need to find a way either to get them back to their country of origin or, in the case of some of the Afghans who have been living in Ukraine since Kabul fell and since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, you know, we need to find a place in Europe to make sure that they have a safe place to live, so that they're not forced into exile yet again. 

MR. SCHIFRIN: And finally, in the small time I have left you have, of course, written about European security and Europe's response to humanitarian crises in the past. Do you believe looking at Europe's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, that European security and how it responds to Russian aggression is frankly forever changed?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, in some ways when you think about the war itself that Putin has waged, you could say, in the worst sense, it has been for so many in Europe and in Ukraine, the unthinkable becoming not only thinkable, but done. But on the other side, if a week ago, you had said that the European Union, for the first time in its history, would be providing security assistance at this scale or any security assistance, people would have said, no, you know, that's unthinkable. And here we see that happen. So, I think the recognition that there are threats out there, and that it is extremely important to invest in European security and national security and in collective security, has really hit home and you're seeing these incredibly important concrete steps commensurate with that.

MR. SCHIFRIN: Ambassador Samantha Power, thank you very much. 


Last updated: July 15, 2022

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