As Ukraine's refugees seek safety, one expert says US 'can't be paralyzed'

Ukrainian citizen: We try and be strong for our kids

Victoria Nikitchuk opens up about staying in Ukraine amid war with Russia on ‘The Story.’

The Ukrainian humanitarian crisis is coming into sharper focus given Russia’s continued attacks on Ukraine — and more than a million people are already seeking shelter in neighboring countries, with perhaps several more million refugees still to come. 

Given this, Fox News Digital turned to an expert on refugee resettlement issues, James Purcell of Maryland. “Watching Russia carpet-bomb and kill Ukrainian citizens today, I am reminded of similar experiences involving the USSR [earlier in history]. It’s why I believe Russia’s current aggression must be stopped now, or — like before — untold thousands may perish,” Purcell said.

Purcell also spoke to Fox News Digital about the crisis as a father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

“When I pray as a Christian before groups or in the silence of my heart,” he said, “I often begin, ‘Father God, who knows no strangers, who calls each of us ‘my child,’ please put us all beneath the shelter of your wing.’”

Iryna Hetman-Piatkovska prays for her son, who is a soldier in Ukraine, during a service for Ukraine at the Saint Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022.
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

“I think God expects me, in my own way, to provide a covering wing for my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren. And I think God asked me to do the same for all vulnerable people around the world, which is what I tried to do during my career.”

He said he’s “seen such tragedy in real time.” 

“In my lifetime,” added Purcell — through times of war and tragedy — “I’ve seen children suffering so badly from famine that their bones nearly disintegrated when I tried to pick them up.”

Refugees who fled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sit inside a ballroom converted into a makeshift refugee shelter at a 4-star hotel and spa, in Suceava, Romania, on Friday, March 4, 2022.
(AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

Purcell said, “Our hearts reach out to all those victimized by violence and atrocious behavior by governments such as Russia. I continually look to my role as a father, grandfather and now great-grandfather to experience the type of love that keeps giving — and I continuously pray that I can extend that same love to all those victimized around the world for as long as possible.”

‘Human tragedy’ in Ukraine

Purcell called what’s going on in Ukraine “a human tragedy. And governments should not be allowed to cause such violence. A government exists to protect,” he added, “not destroy.”

“Little happens without committed American leadership to challenge the democratic community to come to the defense of the world’s defenseless,” said Purcell. 

“To see the bombed-out cities of Ukraine, the bombed-out cars, the smoking buildings, the adults and children running desperately for safety, their lives at grievous risk — this should never be, in our society.”

During his career, Purcell directed two prominent humanitarian organizations, the State Department’s Bureau for Refugee Programs (RP), which he began after the fall of Saigon; and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a damaged logistic center after shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Russia’s wide-ranging attack on Ukraine has hit cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling. 
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

He told Fox News Digital that earlier on in its history, Russia’s “unprovoked and unnecessary attacks left cities, including infrastructure and residences, destroyed and many deaths and injuries. World outrage was not sustained or specific enough to cause Russian attacks to be stopped then.”

“But now that we know of the carpet-bombing strategies imposed by invading Russian forces in similar crises, it would be unconscionable to fail to realize that similar outcomes are almost surely to happen in Ukraine unless the war is concluded immediately — in a way that respects the dignity of victims under attack,” he added.

Refugees who fled Ukraine cover themselves with a blanket while they await a bus for a border crossing in Poland on Sunday, March 6, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

He said, “Now is the time to apply maximum outside pressure and resolve to bring this conflict to an end before further destruction and deaths result.”

Advice for Biden and his cabinet?

Fox News Digital asked Purcell: “If you were to talk to President Joe Biden and his cabinet right now about today’s crisis, what would you say or advise?”

“The brutal events the world is observing in Ukraine are not new,” responded Purcell. “They have happened repeatedly since World War II and usually resulted in gross humanitarian disasters the world should no longer tolerate.”

“Russia must be sanctioned into weakness and irrelevance by the civilized community.”

He said that the “results in Afghanistan and Chechnya, just to mention two of the most prominent disasters, give proof that the same disastrous results and loss of life are inevitable unless the world reacts decisively to prevent them.”

This is why, Purcell said, “inspired and courageous responses from the world’s democratic leaders are essential, especially the U.S. Little happens without committed American leadership to challenge the democratic community to come to the defense of the world’s defenseless,” he said. 

“This is our new ‘Test of Civilization.’”

He said that with the risks right now so great, “the United States and its allies cannot let themselves be paralyzed by Russian aggression because of a fear of repercussions. Russia must be sanctioned into weakness and irrelevance by the civilized community.”

People who have fled Ukraine board a train heading for Warsaw at the station in Przemysl, Poland, on Monday, March 7, 2022.
(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Purcell said that “every aspect of modern Russian life must be brought to a grinding halt. Until Russian citizens are brought to the point of revulsion [about] their government’s actions in Ukraine, they must feel the pain of unacceptable and diminished Russian governance.”

“This includes actions toward normal economic activity, including the purchase of oil, their major income earning activity,” he said. “The United States cannot afford to be weak or halting. We must lead the western allies to thwart Russian aggression in a way that, finally, brings authorities to their knees. This is our obligation as the leader of the global humanitarian community.”

In this handout photo released by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, a destroyed car is seen in front of a damaged City Hall building, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
(Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

He also said, “This will happen again unless we vow now that it is no longer tolerable.”

A tidal wave of refugees

Fox News Digital asked Purcell, “Are Poland, Hungary and other nations and other neighboring countries to the west of Ukraine adequately equipped to handle the tidal wave of refugees that they’re seeing right now?”

“It is not realistic to expect the neighboring countries to solely manage today’s flows of refugees from Ukraine, which now include over one million people and an expected population of up to four to five million,” he said. “It is time for the international community to step into the breach.”

James Purcell shared his thoughts with Fox News Digital on March 7, 2022, about the Russia-Ukraine war and the corresponding crises that have resulted. "We are all affected" by this, he said. He said "the world community" must "step up and help bring this crisis to a humane conclusion."
(James Purcell)

All countries, he said, that “can supply regional asylum should step up and offer their hospitality. Others who can offer permanent solutions, such as in-country support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) or permanent resettlement abroad, should not shy away from offering help.”

“We are all affected, and all should contribute as national capabilities allow,” he added. “Now is the time for the world community to step up and help bring this crisis to a humane conclusion.”

Jim Purcell’s public affairs career spanned a number of U.S. administrations — from President John F. Kennedy forward. Career highlights include his service as an assistant Secretary of State under George Shultz.

Natali Sevriukova reacts as she stands next to her house after a rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.
(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

IOM member governments elected Purcell to two consecutive five-year terms as director general in 1988 and 1993. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, IOM maintained over 70 country missions at the end of his tenure. The organization, begun after World War II and focused on Europe, updated its mandate and expanded its membership, geographical scope and capability to help governments facing urgent migration issues and crises. 

During the 10 years of Purcell’s leadership, the number of member and observer governments affiliated with IOM more than doubled to over 100 and were spread all over the globe.

Purcell today advises governments and organizations on international migration and humanitarian affairs. He’s a widely recognized authority on principled humanitarian responses. His latest book is “We’re in Danger! Who Will Help Us? Refugees and Migrants: A Test of Civilization” (2019).

He has received many awards, including a Special Commendation from the Institute for International Humanitarian Law, San Remo, Italy, 1992 and 1998; the Gold Medal of the President of the Hungarian Republic (first U.S. citizen ever to receive the award); and the Senior Executive Service Meritorious Executive Award, given to him by then-President Ronald Reagan. 

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