CHICAGO – On June 24, U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski addressed an audience of members of the Polish community and invited guests, among them members of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America-Illinois Division, the Selfreliance Ukrainian Credit Union, Ukraine’s Consul General Serhiy Koledov, as well as the city’s political leaders, including Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and Pastor John Harrell.
The presentation was held at the city’s Union League Club.
Mr. Brzezinski, who spoke via video conference, was unable to attend in person because the same day he received a call from U.S. President Joe Biden requesting a personal update on the situation in Poland and the border with Ukraine.
Frank Spula, president of the Polish National Alliance, organized the event and introduced Mr. Brzezinski, who later took questions from the audience.
In his presentation, Mr. Brzezinski raised the key concerns related to U.S.-Polish relations and the challenges caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine. The ambassador noted that he addressed the same issues in his meeting with Mr. Biden. He addressed the three main factors that impact Poland and Ukraine directly and that are also unsettling the world, namely security, economy and democracy.
He cited a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center that illustrates Polish attitudes toward the United States, Russia and Ukraine. Poles have welcomed over 3 million Ukrainians into their homes, and surveys show that there is 80 percent support of the Polish population for taking in refugees. Surveys also show that 82 percent of Poles support Mr. Biden and 92 percent of Poles hold a negative view of Russia.
The numbers demonstrate that Poles understand the direct threat of Russia to their homeland, as Poland is a frontline state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is home to 12,600 U.S. troops who stationed there. With Russia as an imminent threat, Poland is undertaking a massive military modernization while handling the major humanitarian response to the refugee crisis from Ukraine.
The ambassador said that one million Ukrainian children will be entering Polish schools on September 1. The United States is working with Poland to provide resources so that the schools can handle this massive influx of new students.
As the number of refugees from Ukraine swelled, Poland accommodated 240,000 Ukrainians with jobs, which in turn helped the Polish economy grow. The ambassador is working with major American companies and is urging them to create more jobs in Poland and become part of the economic growth of the country.
Mr. Brzezinski also addressed the issue of democracy and rule of law, and said that he is encouraging legislation in Poland to strengthen that society’s relationship with its government. Following the conclusion of the war, Ukraine’s civil society and its democratic institutions will need support to strengthen Kyiv’s bid to join European structures.
The audience heard a particularly inspiring account from the Polish ambassador, who paid tribute to his legendary father, the late U.S. Secretary of State Zbigniew Bzezinski, and to his eminent grandfather, Tadeusz Brzezinski, who was born in Lviv and served as a diplomat and Polish consul general in many countries before 1938, and then in the Polish government in exile, before finally emigrating to Canada.
“Every day I walk in my grandfather’s shadow and I don’t take it for granted for a minute,” Mr. Brzezinski said.
Mr. Koledov and UCCA-Illinois Division President Ihor Diaczun, as well as members of the board of UCCA and Selfreliance Ukrainian Credit Union who were present at the event expressed their appreciation for the support of Poland and the Polish community in Chicago. The city is home to almost 1 million Polish people, making it the second largest population of Poles in the world.
Marta Farion is the vice president of the Illinois Division of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.