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Pingree visits the Poland-Ukraine border, calls for the US to welcome more Ukrainians into the country

APTOPIX Poland Russia Ukraine War
Petros Giannakouris
People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside an indoor sports stadium being used as a refugee center, in the village of Medyka, a border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 15, 2022.

As Ukraine continues to face a barrage of Russian attacks on civilian structures from homes to theatres and schools, lawmakers from Maine are visiting Eastern Europe to see the effects of the invasion and the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Sen. Angus King and Sen. Susan Collins just returned from a trip to Poland and Germany. First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is currently in Romania, and joined Maine Public's Robbie Feinberg for a conversation about what she is seeing as she tours a World Central Kitchen site, refugee centers and meets with troops across Eastern Europe as part of a bipartisan delegation.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Robbie Feinberg: Congresswoman, thanks for your time. You have called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" in a recent interview. Is there anything more that you think the U.S. or other countries should be doing to hold Russia to account, or just provide more aid to Ukraine right now?

Rep. Chellie Pingree: You know, I think all of the above. We've had a chance to talk to the military and understand what the flow of weapon systems into Ukraine is like, what their needs are, I do feel like all of the NATO countries are fully committed to getting them everything they could possibly use and need. The humanitarian aid is very difficult because Putin has no respect for humanitarian corridors, he thinks nothing of bombing a truckload of food, or bombing people or trying to leave the country. But, you know, the USAID team and other NATO teams and NGOs are real, really, really working hard. And as we all know, to communities like Mariupol, we have to get them food and water and everything else. So I think we're working hard on that. And we met with the Ukrainian parliamentarian, and we're presented with a three page list of sanctions that we could also impose. So I don't think that we should consider that we've done everything that we can. And that can be challenging, because this is a NATO effort, and some of our European allies are far more dependent on Russian products, but I think we have to make sure that every American country doing business in Russia feels the pressure to get out.

Three pages of additional sanctions? What sort of things could be done?

Some of them were like technicalities in the banking system. We have shut down some of the banking systems, but there are still many, many operating, I think going directly after members of the Russian parliament, some sort of technical financial stuff that all of us wouldn't think of, and then really making sure that every company that does business in America, or is based in America, that has a connection there - and of course, we've seen some high profile companies, Starbucks, McDonald's and others leave - but there are still many of them over there. I'm anxious to see that full list in print and make sure that consumers know if they're dealing with a company that's still doing business in Russia.

The other big issue here clearly is the millions of refugees who've already fled Ukraine. You've called for updating some of our federal asylum laws, what role do you think the U.S. should be playing right now in assisting these millions of people who are fleeing the country?

You know, it's really phenomenal to be in Poland in particular, and to see that the Polish people have opened their homes. Everybody who has a spare couch or a spare bedroom is taking in a family or an individual that's come across that line. Certain Ukrainians are able to get into the United States, particularly if their family members, but we have reduced our quotas to an embarrassing extent. And to think that there are over a million Ukrainians in Poland, and they are getting them into schools, they're doing every possible level of aid, putting them to work. We should be doing so much more. I think Americans would be anxious and happy to take people in and do more. And really, we have such antiquated immigration laws. It's really unthinkable that we're not doing more, so I think that's very important. Europe is doing an incredible job - Germany, Romania - they're all taking in all the refugees that they can. A quarter of the country of Ukraine, about 10 million people, is on the move. And the idea that we're not doing more to help is unthinkable. We're definitely starting to give aid and we're definitely starting support countries like Poland, they're taking the burden, but we should be welcoming them into America.