My family and I recently visited Bursa Międzyszkolna, a boarding house in Poland which approximately 100 weary Ukrainian women and children today call home. Bringing nothing more than a suitcase with them, they have left behind their lives as well as their husbands and fathers, who have mostly stayed behind to fight for Ukraine. Bursa Międzyszkolna is anticipating many more refugees, but consistent aerial fire has prevented the expected arrivals from crossing the border. In the meantime, its inhabitants are suffering, and its funds are running out.
There are countless situations like the one at Bursa Międzyszkolna across Poland and other European countries. In addition to millions of internally displaced Ukrainians, at least 5.8 million Ukrainians have been strewn across Europe as refugees since the beginning of the war on February 24. Poland has taken in roughly 1.2 million, and Germany has accepted nearly 900,000. Tiny Moldova has received at least 83,000. The kindhearted people of these nations and others need help to house, feed, and provide medical care to the oppressed. Already the UK Government has generously contributed £220 million to help relieve the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War. I, for one, am profoundly thankful to the British people. Now Americans and Britons must continue to come to the rescue.
As a former US ambassador to the UK, I know that the Special Relationship is fundamentally an alliance built on an abiding respect for human dignity. For decades, our two countries have come to humanity’s aid in its darkest hours. We fought to free Europe from Nazi tyranny, confronted terrorists after 9/11, and have aided the Syrian people in this century.
We have responded in this crisis too. Among many acts of mercy, Ukrainian refugees have found shelter in the 72,000-plus British homes which have registered under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, while over 100,000 have been received in the US. We must sustain our aid efforts, especially as the war – now in its sixth month – falls off the front pages.
This mission is a deeply personal one for me and my family. My wife Suzanne’s father emigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 1947, marrying her mother, a first-generation Ukrainian-American. Seeking to honour our heritage and better understand how the war has shattered Ukrainian lives, our family travelled to Poland this summer. At one orphanage, children who ought to be at home in Kyiv or Mariupol played with my sons Brick and Jack. Their faces boasted the widest smiles, despite all the turmoil they have endured. But beyond that moment of playtime fun, it was clear that a flood of sorrows is overwhelming Ukrainians who have fled the war.
Our trip also brought us into contact with many generous and hospitality-minded Poles caring for their beleaguered neighbours. Their passion to help is abundant, but they need greater quantities of material support. Financial contributions of any size are welcome. Any volunteer work makes a difference. I recall a quote from Winston Churchill: “The experience of a long life and the promptings of my blood,” the great man said, “have wrought in me the conviction that there is nothing more important for the future of the world than the fraternal association of our two peoples in righteous work, both in war and peace.” Citizens of the US and the UK must tackle this righteous work of our time.
To help address the overwhelming need, my football club, the New York Jets, has pledged an initial commitment of $1 million to aid the Ukrainian people. That money is being distributed in $100,000 increments to worthy organisations leading relief efforts. In June, Iga Świątek, the top-ranked women’s singles tennis player in the world, announced her intent to organise a charity tennis exhibition in Poland at exactly the time my family would be visiting. Inspired by her passion for Ukraine, Brick and Jack attended the exhibition and decided to allocate July’s donation to Iga’s preferred charity, United24, the Ukrainian government’s official arm for collecting charitable donations. The money will help fund Ohmatdyt, the largest children’s hospital in Kyiv. Other installments of $100,000 have been given to Plast Scouting, Razom for Ukraine, and the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America – all of which do vital work.
In these dark days I am reminded of a signal moment in history when the United States and the United Kingdom joined forces to help a people suffering at the hands of Russian aggression. In 1948 and 1949, our nations airlifted 2.3 million tons of food, fuel, and supplies to West Berlin, defying a Soviet blockade of the city. Just as Britons and Americans came to the rescue then, so we must continue to do so now. The Ukrainian people are depending on us.
Robert Wood Johnson was the US ambassador to the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2021