After returning from a week-long trip to Ukrainian border areas, Rep. Chellie Pingree said Friday the U.S. and Maine needed to take in far more Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. would take up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. But, the country needs to do more, Pingree said, fixing the long-standing “embarrassingly low” refugee quota.
The U.S. is far behind Europe in refugee policy, Pingree said, noting that the small country of Moldova had already allowed an estimated 350,000 Ukrainian refugees to enter.
“This is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and they’re already meeting the quota that we just said we would take,” said Pingree, who wrote to Biden on Thursday asking him to hasten Ukrainian resettlement in the U.S.
Traveling to Europe as part of a trip with a bipartisan congressional delegation, Pingree spent time in the Ukrainian border areas of Moldova, Romania and Poland as well as Austria. She also spoke with multiple Ukrainian refugees at border crossings.
“Obviously that’s just gut-wrenching to see people with their plastic bags full of stuff,” Pingree said. “I think most of us couldn’t possibly imagine how that feels.”
Pingree said she hopes Maine welcomes some of the refugees fleeing the war, noting that many Ukrainians have family members in the state.
While Pingree supports substantial military assistance to Ukrainian fighters, she does not support the American no-fly zone that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy requested.
Pingree said she understood the desire to intervene directly in light of the sizable humanitarian catastrophe occurring in Ukraine. But she is fearful that an incident could spur a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Russia.
“That impacts our country — you know that’s like we have just started something we may not be able to survive,” Pingree said.
As she traveled across Europe, one thing that struck her was the central role that a single man, Russian President Vladimir Putin, continued to play in the conflict.
“This all hinges on the psychological assessment of one crazy man,” Pingree said.
Pingree spoke at her Portland office on Friday morning, less than 12 hours after touching down at Portland International Jetport.
While she acknowledged more needed to be done on the military and humanitarian fronts in Ukraine, she said the trip had provided her optimism on many fronts. The Ukrainians were fighting courageously to repel Russian aggression, she said. And in a bitterly partisan environment, Republicans and Democrats seemingly stood united in helping them do that.
“Almost universally [Ukrainian] people say we plan to win this,” Pingree said. “We’re not ready to negotiate our way out of it yet.”