Leaders of one of Europe’s poorest countries on Wednesday asked Rep. Chellie Pingree and other visiting U.S. House members for American help in coping with refugees, economic disruptions and the threat of Russian aggression as the war in neighboring Ukraine approaches its second month.

Pingree is in Moldova, which borders on Ukraine and is housing 100,000 refugees, as part of the first congressional delegation to visit the country of 2.6 million since it elected a reform-minded government last year. The bipartisan six-person group of House members visited refugee reception centers, U.S. troops, and government officials in Poland and Romania earlier this week.

“To say they are nervous is an understatement,” Pingree said via telephone from the capital, Chisinau, Wednesday after meetings with Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita and Moldovan Interior Minister Ana Revenco. “They are vulnerable on all kinds of fronts.”

There have been fears that Moldova could be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next target because of several characteristics it shares with its war-torn neighbor.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, second from left, and and a State Department official meet U.N. refugee agency representatives at the Palanca crossing at the Moldova-Ukraine border. Photo courtesy of U.S. Rep Chellie Pingree

Like Ukraine, Moldova is a former Soviet Republic partially occupied by Russian-backed separatists that is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and whose people have elected a Western-oriented government. The Ukrainian port city of Odessa, which is bracing for a Russian assault, is just 35 miles from the Moldovan border, and the Russian-backed breakaway region of Transnistria has its own army of 1,300.

“They see themselves like this: If Putin was to take Odessa – Moldova, this would be an obvious choice,” said Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District.


“It adds to the urgency for the United States because (Prime Minister Gavrilita) is the right person at the right time with the right government and a majority in parliament and is trying to implement all of these anti-corruption measures that could allow them to join NATO or the European Union and all of these other things,” Pingree said. “And they feel like if they don’t see a level of support in this crisis, they won’t survive as a government” because of the potential political backlash of an economic collapse.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, returned from a trip to the Polish-Ukrainian border Sunday and said she was also concerned about Moldova’s vulnerability.

In an interview with the Press Herald on Monday, the state’s senior senator said her delegation met with German and Polish officials who were “really worried that Putin is not going to stop with Ukraine. It might not be this year, but if he’s successful in crushing Ukraine and taking it back into Russia, I think he’ll move on to Moldova.”

While in Moldova Tuesday and Wednesday, Pingree and her House colleagues also met with parliamentary leaders and U.S. Embassy staff and visited refugees arriving at the Palanca border crossing with Ukraine, where residents said they had heard the previous shelling of Odessa just 35 miles to the east.

“It was gut-wrenching to talk with the families crossing the border who left fathers, sons and brothers behind. Many also left grandparents who were unable or unwilling to move,” Pingree said of her visit there. “I met three sisters – volunteering in the refugee camp – who had been sent to live in Moldova while their parents stayed behind in Odessa. I was heartbroken to hear stories of elderly people not surviving the 35-mile walk from Odessa to the border crossing.”

Pingree said one thing the visit to border posts in Poland, Romania and Moldova had impressed upon her was the need for the U.S. to share the burden of helping the millions of Ukrainians who have fled the war.

“These countries have nowhere near the capacities of the U.S. and they are going to have thousands of kids in their schools and be taking on people’s health care and, by contrast, in the U.S. we’re not even working on a quota for taking in refugees.”

Pingree’s delegation, headed by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., returns to the U.S. on Thursday after a stop in another European country, undisclosed ahead of time for security reasons.

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