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Secretary of State Blinken visits Poland to discuss further assistance to Ukraine


Secretary of State Blinken, meanwhile, is in Poland today to discuss further security assistance in the face of Russia's aggression. He's also meeting Ukrainian refugees. Poland has welcomed more than 700,000 refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine. Joining us now from Rzeszow, Poland, is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Joanna, thanks for being with us.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And what is Secretary Blinken telling the Polish government?

KAKISSIS: So Secretary Blinken is reassuring Poland that the U.S. has its back and the backs of all countries on NATO's eastern flank who feel threatened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They're really concerned about this war on their doorstep. Poland's foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, is warning of a refugee crisis on, quote, "an unimaginable scale." And so Blinken reassured him.


ANTONY BLINKEN: At this moment of crisis for millions of Ukrainians and as the security of Europe hangs in the balance, Poland has stepped forward with generosity, with leadership, with resolve.

KAKISSIS: He says the U.S. will give Poland nearly $3 billion in humanitarian assistance to help care for Ukrainian refugees.

SIMON: How - as a generalization, how do Poles feel about Russia's war in Ukraine? What do you see and feel on the ground?

KAKISSIS: So, yeah, everyone in Poland is very upset about the war. Poland itself has a very bad history with Russian aggression. Poles are glued to their TVs and computers. They're watching President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's speeches from here. I've heard many of them say, you know, the Russians will not stop with Ukraine. They could come after us next. And so they're showing absolute solidarity with Ukraine. Everywhere you look in Poland, you see the Ukrainian flag on billboards and apartment buildings, mounted on Polish buses and cars. I've even met waiters at restaurants who are donating all of their tips to help Ukrainians. And most significantly, Polish families are opening their homes to Ukrainians so the Ukrainians don't have to live in refugee camps.

The U.N.'s refugee agency says that more than 1.2 million Ukrainians have fled since Russia invaded a little more than a week ago, and most of these refugees have crossed into Poland. So Blinken is expected to offer Poland continuing support in addition to the money he promised today.

SIMON: And will he meet some refugees at the border? What does it look like there?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, he is expected to meet refugees at the border at one of the reception centers. Polish authorities estimate that about 50,000 Ukrainians and residents of Ukraine are entering Poland every day. They're welcomed by volunteers, who hand them hot drinks and soup and whatever else is needed. There are also, you know, like I said, these reception centers, and refugees take a rest there. And, you know, they can take a nap until they take a bus somewhere else.

I visited one of these reception centers late last night. It's near the border town of Korczowa. It's in a big, heated supermarket warehouse. It's now filled with, you know, exhausted families sleeping on foldout beds and recliners. And it's where I met Victoria Ermolich. She's a 27-year-old lawyer from the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, a city that the Russian army has been constantly shelling. She and her mother managed to get out, but part of her family is still trapped in Kharkiv.

VICTORIA ERMOLICH: My father, my grandmother and my aunt still in Kharkiv. And it's very hard to be here and they still in Kharkiv. It's the hardest thing, really. I cry every day. Government of United States - maybe they can find words that can help us to stop this hard attack. Even talk will maybe help us.

KAKISSIS: She's saying, can Antony Blinken find the words to convince Vladimir Putin to stop this invasion? She says since NATO can't help with a no-fly zone, can Blinken use what she calls magic words through diplomacy, through threat - she doesn't care - to stop Putin from destroying Ukraine?

SIMON: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Poland, thanks so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.