On March 4, we set off to the border between Poland and Ukraine, the front line of the humanitarian disaster unfolding from Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRepublican senators introduce bill to ban Russian uranium imports Hillicon Valley — Invasion complicates social media policy Defense & National Security — Blinken details Russia’s possible next steps MORE’s illegal war to bear witness and learn how we, in Congress, could best help. 

The suffering is staggering, and nothing any human being should ever have to experience. 

More than 2 million Ukrainians have fled their country—children walking miles to escape the violence, mothers trying to protect their children from cold and death, millions with nowhere to call home and now unsure where they will get their next meal or when they will be able to return home. 

The tears flow freely at the border, from families who have been forced to leave loved ones behind to fight the invading forces, from those relieved to have finally reached safety, and from those who are witnessing their pain. 

By the end of the trip, not one of the members of Congress or staff with us on the ground in Poland could hold back our tears. 

And yet, amidst all the suffering we still saw hope in the Polish troops giving stuffed animals to children as they made their way to the border crossing, hoping to make them smile after experiencing the kind of fear that no one wants their own children to ever face. In the Polish volunteers working day and night at the welcome center to provide hot meals and the thousands more around the country who are offering information, transportation, and accommodation, opening their homes to those that have lost theirs. And in the Ukrainian people who continue to fight for their lives, their country, their democracy. 

And that is what scares Putin the most–a vibrant democracy next door—with people so dedicated to their country that they are making Molotov cocktails, staring down tanks, and picking up arms even though they have never fought in the military a day in their lives. In Kherson, a city that Russia claims to control, mass protests are a regular occurrence and serve as a reminder to Putin that his invasion will never be accepted by the people of Ukraine. 

It also serves as further evidence that Putin’s invasion was not about NATO. Putin doesn’t want Russians to see what they’re missing: the freedom to talk freely about their views, to work in a free market, to build better lives. To allow democracy to flourish next door is to threaten the corrupt and kleptocratic autocracy that Putin has spent his two decades in office cultivating. Democracy and freedom represent an existential threat to his twisted worldview. 

Ukrainians have mounted a fierce resistance because of their desire to remain free. They built a democracy 30 years ago and they refuse to go back to the days of Soviet rule. 

This war is about more than Putin’s control of Ukraine – it is a threat to stability, democracy, and the institutions that have kept the world at peace for the last 75 years. 

Putin thought NATO and our alliances were divided and weak, but his illegal, unwarranted invasion has shown how wrong he was. We are now stronger and more united here in the United States and around the world in our resolve to protect democracy and fight his aggression.  

We must continue to support Ukrainians on the frontlines with all the resources they need to keep fighting as we support the millions of refugees who have made it out of Ukraine and those who are internally displaced. We need to support Poland, and the rest of our European allies, who have heroically opened their borders and are welcoming those fleeing.

This is a staggering disaster, the worst we have seen in a generation. The entire Bosnian war led to 2.3 million refugees in the 1990s. There have been more than 2 million Ukrainians sent fleeing from their homes in just the past two weeks—mostly women and children, too many now orphans. 

We must continue to support them and help them stand up for their right to democracy, and to ensure that the millions of innocent Ukrainians running for their lives have food, shelter, safety, and the knowledge that the United States and the international community have their backs. 

Cicilline represents the 1st District of Rhode Island. Wagner represents the 2nd District of Missouri. Both are members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

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