Polish citizens and soldiers are rallying to help Ukrainian refugees pouring into their country at the rate of about 150,000 a day — including, recently, a 5-day-old baby — Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Saturday during a visit to Poland.
Poland "is really the epicenter of a lot of good work" since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Klobuchar said in a phone interview from Rzeszow, a city in southeastern Poland.
"Poland is slightly smaller than Ukraine, but not by much," the Democratic senator from Minnesota said. "And they're taking refugees into their homes and their hearts. You see Ukrainian flags all over."
Klobuchar is part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that met with military leaders and American diplomats to Ukraine who have relocated in Poland. The delegation includes Sens. Rob Portman, Richard Blumenthal and Roger Wicker. On Sunday, the group plans to travel to the border to talk to Ukrainian refugees and aid workers serving meals.
Klobuchar also talked to a handful of Minnesotans from the 82nd Airborne Division currently stationed in Poland, including soldiers from Stillwater, Eagan and the Fargo-Moorhead area. The number of American troops in Poland has doubled to 10,000 since the invasion, she said.
"It's always a point of pride to see Minnesotans on the front lines, upholding democracy," she said. "They are here as part of our commitment to protect NATO countries and also, when needed, helping with refugees."
So far, Poland has taken in 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees. Their arrival has increased the population of Warsaw, Poland's capital, by 11%, Klobuchar said. Many are being put up in private homes, as well as in Airbnbs.
The Polish people are particularly resolute about helping Ukrainians withstand the Russian invasion, she said, because more than 80 years ago Poland itself was invaded — by Adolf Hitler's German army in 1939.
"Their country has gotten much stronger, and now it's the Poles who are standing up — they're not the victims, they're actually the strength of this coalition here, in addition to the U.S.," she said. "Part of why this rings so true to their hearts is because they don't want this to happen to another country."
More than 16,000 Minnesotans identify as Ukrainian Americans, according to Klobuchar's office.
"We have one of the bigger populations" of Ukrainians, she said.
Many Minnesotans have Polish backgrounds as well, she said.
"Their pride in what Poland is doing is absolutely extraordinary."
The experience of watching the war unfold "is bringing our country together," to some extent easing the divisive politics of recent years, Klobuchar said, pointing to her bipartisan delegation as an example.
"Watching these Ukrainians, you realize you can take nothing for granted," she said. "They're risking their lives for a democracy that we sometimes take for granted."