Welch travels to eastern Europe to get a closer look at war in Ukraine

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was in Poland on Tuesday to get a closer look at Russia's war on Ukraine. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was in eastern Europe on Tuesday to get a closer look at Russia’s war on Ukraine.

At a news conference from Warsaw, Welch and fellow members of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee described the situation from Poland, which has accepted roughly 2.7 million Ukrainian refugees since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Ukrainian invasion in February. 

The American lawmakers also traveled to Latvia, Welch’s office said.

On Monday, the congressmen met with four Ukrainian legislators who traveled from Poland and described the scene back in Ukraine.

“What they described was extraordinary,” Welch said. “The Ukrainian government is a democracy; they had a lot of internal debates about things that we in our own country have. But the moment that Putin invaded, they all came together.”

To hear firsthand their uncertainty about the future struck him.

“Everybody was living their normal daily life in Ukraine, and then suddenly that was gone,” he said. “To be separated from their husbands, to be insecure about their kids — that is very powerful and something I think anybody can relate to. … The security that things will be normal tomorrow just like they are today, that's gone.”

While the U.S. government and allies have imposed economic sanctions on Russia and the U.S. military has bolstered its presence in neighboring NATO nations, President Joe Biden has neither ordered boots on the ground in Ukraine nor instituted a no-fly zone. Welch on Tuesday praised Congress’s action in approving billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and called on the U.S. to do more to relocate refugees either in the U.S. or nearby nations like Poland.

But to take military action further right now, he said, could escalate the conflict, drawing the U.S. or allies directly into war with Russia.

“Ukrainians have been very clear: They want to fight this war on their own and they want help from us,” he said. “They're not asking for us to provide boots on the ground or to be engaged in direct combat hostilities.”

And so far, Welch said the deployment of aid has been successful in bolstering the Ukrainian army so that they can “push back against what Putin thought was going to be a cakewalk.”

Still, Welch said the four Ukrainian legislators told the congressmen that they are prepared for a long war. Heavy on the minds of Ukrainians and their neighbors, he said, is “the memory of World War II, and the aggression, the violence, the attack on democracy, the attack on people's liberties.”

“The human suffering here caused by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine is real. It's horrifying. And it is the challenge for all of us to respond and to help Ukraine be successful in driving out the Russian invaders,” he said. “The responsibilities that each of us have is not just to the individuals in Ukraine, but to our collective sense of democracy and freedom.”

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Sarah Mearhoff

About Sarah

Sarah Mearhoff is one of VTDigger's political reporters, covering the Vermont statehouse, executive branch and congressional delegation. Prior to joining Digger, she covered Minnesota and South Dakota state politics for Forum Communications' newspapers across the Upper Midwest for three years. She has also covered politics in Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she is a proud alumna of the Pennsylvania State University where she studied journalism.

Email: [email protected]

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