Briefing with Senior Administration Officials on the U.S. Humanitarian Assistance Response to Russia’s Further Invasion of Ukraine

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ryan, and thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon for this briefing on the U.S. humanitarian assistance response to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine.

Here at the top, before we get started, I would like to remind everyone that this briefing is on background with attribution to senior administration officials, and that the contents of this call are embargoed until the end of the briefing.

For the purposes of your reporting, you can refer to our briefers as Senior Administration Official Number One, Senior Administration Official Number Two, and Senior Administration Official Number Three.

Now, for your information but not for your reporting, I’m going to go ahead and let you know who our briefers are this afternoon.  I’m very glad to have with us [Senior Administration Official Number One]; [identifying information withheld] be Senior Administration Official Number One.  [Senior Administration Official Number Two]; [identifying information withheld] be Senior Administration Official Number Two.  And third, [Senior Administration Official Number Three], or Senior Administration Official Number Three.

Okay, we’re going to start our briefing today just with some brief remarks from each of our speakers and then we’ll take a few of your questions.  Again, let me just say that this briefing this afternoon is on the U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine.  I would like to go ahead and ask folks to please limit your questions to that topic.  We’ve already had excellent briefings today from Press Secretary Jen Psaki over at the White House and Spokesperson Ned Price here at State covering the full gamut of issues with regard to Russia and its invasion of Ukraine, so we’ll ask you again to limit your questions to humanitarian assistance and our response in that regard.

Okay.  And with that, I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Number One] to get us started.  [Identifying information withheld]?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL NUMBER ONE:  Thank you and good afternoon, everyone.  I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today about USAID’s humanitarian response to the crisis in Ukraine following Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion.

Since this senseless campaign of unprovoked violence has begun, 4.7 million people have been displaced in and out of Ukraine.  That’s over 10 percent of Ukraine’s population, but one that the UN thinks the real figures may be significantly higher.

Putin’s war has turned nearly 3 million Ukrainians into refugees, including 1 million children, some of whom are forced to flee without their parents.  Nearly 2 million people are displaced inside of Ukraine.  We are hearing distressing reports from our partners in cities like Mariupol, where people remain in dire conditions and lack safe drinking water, food, fuel, and electricity.  The extensive damage we are seeing also means that shelter may be inadequate at a time when people face cold weather.  All of this is compounded by the terror of living under bombardment.

As the war continues into its third week, as just one of the many examples of the horrors civilians face, we are seeing Russian forces target schools and hospitals with a campaign of terror that has interrupted the cancer treatment for 1,500 children who are now forced to flee as bombs rain down on them while crossing into foreign countries with compromised immune systems during a pandemic with only the supplies they can carry.

We call for an immediate end to this needless war of aggression.  Short of that, the United States strongly supports the United Nations’ call for the establishment of safe passage of civilians out of areas under Russian attack and safe passage for aid workers attempting to provide humanitarian and medical supplies.  Russia must negotiate in good faith on these issues immediately.

In the face of this catastrophic toll on the people of Ukraine, you are seeing the U.S. stand united with our allies to aid those who are suffering.  USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, has been in the region since the early days of Russia’s unprovoked war, making up-to-the-minute assessments of humanitarian needs and quickly ramping up assistance in Ukraine.

Over the past week alone, USAID has rapidly deployed four planeloads of lifesaving supplies from our warehouse in Dubai and mobilized our partners to immediately stand up surge support.

This includes blankets, high energy biscuits, kitchen sets, water treatment supplies, which USAID partner International Organization for Migration, or IOM, will distribute to vulnerable Ukrainians.

We’ve also worked with our partner the World Health Organization to provide emergency health kits with vital medicines and medical supplies, as well as trauma and emergency surgery kits to support emergency surgeries.  These supplies, which serve upwards of 100,000 people, are directly supporting the Government of Ukraine’s health care system, which has been badly damaged since the war began.

USAID partner the UN World Food Program also transported 500 metric tons of wheat flour, enough to provide bread for 500,000 people for a week, to Kyiv.  A WFP-contracted bakery also delivered nearly 15 metric tons of bread – sent to meet the needs of 60,000 people – to hospitals in Kharkiv.

Through our partners, we also continue to provide critical psychosocial support to children, people with disabilities, and older people, operating mobile medical units and protection teams to reach remote, displaced, or homebound communities and conducting mine-risk education activities to minimize protection risk.

In total, the United States has provided nearly 293 million in additional humanitarian assistance in just the last two weeks, including nearly 81 million from USAID.  We will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people during this crisis and work to meet their needs.

However, despite this project – progress, the situation on the ground in Ukraine is rapidly getting worse.  Russian bombardment and shelling continues to damage the infrastructure needed to get aid to people, destroying roads, bridges, and railroads, and making it difficult for aid workers to reach people in need.  In the absence of a ceasefire, humanitarian safe passage must be assured in order to allow aid workers to reach those in need.  As humanitarian needs continue to rise, USAID is working closely with European allies and partners who are on the front lines of this response on how to support people displaced internally and other people affected by the conflict.  We will continue to coordinate closely with the UN, other donors and partners to urge that robust humanitarian assistance can continue to prevent gaps in basic service delivery.

Thank you for your time.  I’d now like to pass it to [Senior Administration Official Two] for [identifying information withheld] remarks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Hi.  Thank you, [Senior Administration Official One], and thank you everybody for being here this afternoon.

I’m from [identifying information withheld], and we really want to underscore that our partnership with and commitment to the people of Ukraine and their government is steadfast and enduring.  We will continue to support and stand with them.

Today I want to share with you more about the enormous humanitarian efforts underway to assist the 12 million people in need of assistance across Ukraine, and the nearly 3 million refugees throughout neighboring countries due to the Russian Federation’s unprovoked and unjustified attack against Ukraine.

We are working with the Government of Ukraine, neighboring governments in the region, the European Union, international organizations like the United Nations, and other partners around the clock to address the urgent humanitarian needs of this crisis.  We are closely coordinating with these partners to monitor developments, assess needs, and respond accordingly.

Historically, the United States is the largest single country donor of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.  Since the start of the current crisis, we have announced nearly $293 million in additional assistance to those affected by Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, including more than 186 million announced today.  This includes nearly 81 million from USAID, and nearly 212 million from the Department of State, and we will continue to do even more.

With this new contribution, we will complement the tremendous efforts of neighboring countries generously welcoming refugees.  We will work through our international and nongovernmental partners who provide food, safe drinking water, shelter, emergency health care, and protection.  This assistance will also support vulnerable populations inside Ukraine, as our humanitarian organization partners work tirelessly to provide safe passage for evacuees trying to leave danger.

Since the conflict in Ukraine began eight years ago, the United States has provided over 644 million in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities across Ukraine.  We will continue to support our European allies and partners who are at the forefront of this response, as well as international organizations and nongovernmental organizations working to mitigate the humanitarian impacts of this crisis.

We are also committed to working with a range of partners and stakeholders, including the Ukrainian diaspora community, to ensure that humanitarian organizations are prepared to respond to existing and new needs that arise in Ukraine and the neighboring countries.  The courage of the people of Ukraine and the generosity of all who have stepped up in their time of need is inspiring, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine.

Thank you, and I will turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Three].  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Thank you, [Senior Administration Official Two].  Good afternoon, everyone.  I’m here representing [identifying information withheld] to share information about visa processing for Ukrainians.

But first, just for a second, I want to go off – slightly off-topic and reiterate the State Department Travel Advisory for Ukraine is at a Level Four – Do Not Travel due to increased threat of Russian military action.  Our recommendations to U.S. citizens currently in Ukraine is that they should leave now using available transportation options if it is safe to do so.  We continue to encourage U.S. citizens in Ukraine to fill out our online form to let us know where they are, what they’re doing.

Turning to visas, given the suspension of our operations in Ukraine, the State Department is not offering visa services in Ukraine at this time.  I’ll talk a little bit about immigrant visas first and then nonimmigrant visas.  We want to share this information to further clarify visa options and outline alternatives to visas that Ukrainians may consider.  It’s important to note that a visa is not a viable way to achieve refugee resettlement in the United States.

We understand that any U.S. citizens who leave Ukraine may have families with mixed immigration status, for example, a U.S. citizen whose spouse has not yet started or completed the immigrant visa process.  We are prioritizing consular support to U.S. citizens and their immediate family members in this regard.  The Immigration and Nationality Act defines immediate family members as spouse, unmarried children under 21, and parents, so that’s our focus for immigrant visas.

We have designated the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt as the processing post for all the immigrant visa applications that would have been processed in Kyiv, with the exception of adoption cases, which will be handled at the U.S. embassy in Warsaw.

Ukraine passport holders can enter Schengen countries without a visa.  U.S. citizens and their immediate family members should relocate to a safe place and then follow detailed guidance on visa processing on our website and the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  U.S. citizens who are overseas with the immediate family members that I described and have not yet filed an immigrant visa petition with USCIS may request to file a petition at the nearest embassy or consulate that processes immigrant visas.  Again, this only applies to the spouses, unmarried children under 21, and the parents that I just described.  Individuals who already have a USCIS-approved current petition for an immigrant visa for their relatives of any kind who have not yet been scheduled for an immigrant visa interview may be able to request expedited processing through the National Visa Center.

Now turning to nonimmigrant visas, again, I want to reiterate that nonimmigrant visas are for temporary stays in the United States.  They’re not the appropriate tool to begin an immigrant, refugee, or resettlement process.  If a person applies for a B1/B2 visa, commonly called a tourist visa, but they are unable to demonstrate their intent to leave the United States after a defined period in order to return to a residence abroad, a consular officer will have to refuse the application.  Nonimmigrant visa applicants may apply at any embassy or consulate where they are physically present and where appointments are available.  A full list of embassies and consulates is available at usembassy.gov.

As a result of COVID – as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, applicants may face extended visa interview wait times at some embassies and consulates, but once an interview appointment is made, applicants will have the ability to request an expedited appointment.  However, they must describe the unique circumstances that justify such a request, i.e. justify that they go get an appointment earlier than many of the other people in a similar situation.

Finally, a note on adoption.  The department is actively working with adoption service providers to provide guidance and answer questions during this critical time.  Our website address – addresses adoptions and intended adoptions at various stages of the process and provides guidance on whom to consult and clarifications on the department’s potential role and ability to assist.  Prospective adoptive parents should consult their adoption service provider about how the crisis in Ukraine may impact their adoption plans.  They can also email adoption@state.gov with questions.

With that, I’ll turn it back to [Moderator].  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you to [Senior Administration Official One] and [Senior Administration Official Two] and to [Senior Administration Official Three] for that.  Operator, would you please give the instructions once again for getting into the question queue?

OPERATOR:  Certainly.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you’d like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 now – 1, 0.

MODERATOR:  Okay, let’s go to the line of Michelle Hackman.

OPERATOR:  Okay.  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi there, thanks for doing this call.  I’m wondering if I guess someone from the refugee division can speak to there’s been some reporting about creating an expedited program for Ukrainian refugees to come to the U.S., particularly those with family members already here.  Could you tell us what the latest thinking is about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Sure, and I will echo or refer everybody back to Jen Psaki’s comments on this earlier today as well, but the department is continuing to work to explore all possible options to support those who may want to resettle to the United States and meet the qualifications of our resettlement program.  We are recognizing, though, that most people who are fleeing Ukraine are – prefer to stay in the region where they can travel visa-free and many have families and there are large diaspora communities, with the hope that they can return home soon.  And so we do want to commend our European allies for keeping their borders open and continuing to provide protection to those who are fleeing.

If refugees are identified as having protection needs that cannot be met in the country where they currently are – again, recognizing that their immediate safety is of paramount importance – we will work with our UN partners and other resettlement partners to identify those that would be safer resettling to other countries, including the United States, and then we’ll seek to help assist them through our U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.  That program is not an emergency response program, so again, our goal would be to provide humanitarian assistance to keep people safe where they are for now while that process would continue.

MODERATOR:  And let’s please go to the line now of Camilla Schick.

OPERATOR:  Okay.  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Hi, thank you for this.  I was wondering if you could give a little bit more detail – and I understand the security concerns in providing detail on this, but any more detail about what the U.S. or USAID is doing to help particularly Ukrainian journalists, anti-corruption activists, ethnic minorities, members of vulnerable communities such as LGBTQ who want to leave the country because of the Russian advance and whether – given that they’re Ukrainian, whether there is some kind of special status or visa application process for them to be able to come to the United States or elsewhere.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  This is [Senior Administration Official Two].  I can start off on that and then let others chime in, but I would say – so first, our humanitarian organization partners are doing everything they can to continue to operate on the ground inside Ukraine to provide safe passage for evacuees trying to flee from the dangerous situation, including – particularly those who are most vulnerable, such as the groups that you have mentioned.

I – once refugees get to the border crossings, again, our international organization partners for whom we have now contributed a significant amount of resources in the past two weeks particularly focus on the protection of those groups that are most vulnerable and will seek to provide them with information at the border and where to go on the other side, and then again, our partners are on the other side of the border as well and will be providing protection to all of those who are most vulnerable, whether it be, again, dissidents, journalists, those who are LGBTQI+ individuals, those with disabilities, as well as third-country nationals who may be having challenges returning back to their home countries.  So they are particularly attuned to those groups, and are focusing their protection efforts, including surging additional staff with explicit expertise at providing protection to vulnerable groups.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  And this is [Senior Administration Official Three].  On the very last part of that question regarding visas, the options for visa application are defined in statute.  You mentioned journalists, you mentioned a couple other groups.  As I had discussed in my remarks, the B1/B2 visa is just for general visits to the United States, business or tourism.  There is a particular visa category for journalists who are coming to the US to work as journalists, called the I visa.  Maybe you already – you guys may be very familiar.  But apart from that, there are no – there’s a wide variety of visa categories, but I don’t believe any that would apply to the groups that you just noted.  By far the vast majority of the nonimmigrant visa categories require a residence abroad and have a presumption of intending immigration that the applicant needs to rebut.  But as I said, we are processing many emergency visa applications.  We are not able to process the volume of the people who are thinking about that as an option.

I hope that answers your question.  Over.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  And let’s go to the line of Erin Durkin.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you so much for taking my question.  I just have a two-part question on the use of humanitarian corridors, particularly by the USAID team on the ground.  I first wanted to just ask a clarifying question – if and when these are established or agreed upon with Russia, if the focus of the USAID team is more about getting people out or if it’s also about getting supplies into the regions.  And then the second part of that is how you will balance that with the safety of your own team given Russia’s particularly bad history with humanitarian corridors.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Hi.  Okay, thank you for that question.  I’d first start by saying we – both USAID and the State Department work through and with nongovernmental and UN partners on the ground.  Their safety and security is of the utmost importance to us, but this is not – these programs are not directly implemented by U.S. Government personnel.  It is through our partners.  Our focus is on both the evacuation of civilians who are seeking to leave these encircled cities, as well as getting critical food and medical supplies in along those same safe passages should they be negotiated by the parties to the conflict.

OPERATOR:  And as a reminder, if you’d like to queue up for a question, it’s 1 then 0.

MODERATOR:  And just on that last question, I would add that of course colleagues here, we want to do everything possible to save lives, which is why the U.S. Government, we of course support the establishment of humanitarian corridors.  I would point out that there’s been I believe at this point six successive agreements for humanitarian pauses in fighting in Mariupol which have broken down.  During one of those reported pauses on March 9th, a maternity hospital was targeted.  These corridors will only be as effective as Moscow’s willingness to maintain them, and the corridors, while they would be welcome in the short term, are certainly no substitute for ending the war.  And I know that the U.S. Government will continue to pull every lever to bring about that outcome.

Let’s go to the line of Abigail Williams.  Abby.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks so much for doing this call.  A couple of questions.  One of them, I wondered if you could just address sort of where you’re starting at here in this process where you are trying to help Ukrainians now after the system has been affected by COVID, by cuts in previous administrations, by processing the 70,000 Afghans that are being brought in recently, and how that impacts your ability to process visas now.  And more specifically, I wondered what you would say to the Ukrainian American community here who obviously are very focused on their loved ones overseas trying to come over and may not be a direct family member, may not fit into that – the nuclear family category, maybe an adult sibling or something along those lines.  And what would you say to them?  How would you say they can help to bring their family over here, and how long would that process take?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Hi, yes.  Many thanks for this question.  So we – as you’ve been following, we have many – many, many things we need – we are doing with our limited resources.  We are throwing many, many resources at the assistance for U.S. citizens in this region as well as visa processing, but the demand, as you can imagine, is very high, which is why we’re trying to educate the appropriateness of the immigrant visa and nonimmigrant visa channels so that the people who are using those pathways do so knowing what the requirements are.

With that respect, we are engaging with the Ukrainian diaspora.  You’re exactly right, these are many of the questions.  There are processes to bring other non-immediate relatives through the immigrant visa process.  This might include your adult child of a U.S. citizen, it would include relatives of legal permanent residents, spouse and minor children chief among them.  It would include your – even your siblings.  This process is not immediate and it goes through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, after which we would process that application overseas.  And some of the ones that we are processing in Frankfurt are those cases, it’s just we can’t process immediately sort of everything from the petition to the immigrant visa all as one package, only for those immediate relatives, spouse, minor children, and parents expeditiously.

Other than that, many people may very well qualify for a nonimmigrant visa, but it definitely depends on their situation.  Again, the statute requires a residence abroad to which they have no intention of abandoning.  It does not have to be their home in Ukraine.  They have to have a plan for what they’re doing after – how does this trip to the United States fit in with their plans forward.  Don’t – doesn’t have to be concrete; you have to rebut the presumption of intending immigration, that you have something else planned for after this trip of a defined period to the United States, which might make sense in some people’s cases, might not make sense depending on what their purpose of the travel is.

I want to emphasize each of those is a case-by-case analysis by the consular officer.  They look at the totality of circumstances, and so it’s not a – that you can’t use this, it’s just if your plan is to go to the United States and you have absolutely no idea what you’ll do after that – which I have to say on a human level is very understandable – as U.S. consular officers who are charged with executing U.S. immigration law, they would be well advised to have much more of a plan afterward – I’ll be – going to go visit my aunts and come back to Poland where I’m enrolling in school, or Germany, or wherever.  That’s all possible.

I hope that answers your question.

MODERATOR:  Okay, one more time, if you have a question and would like to ask that question, please dial 1 and then 0.

Looks like we have a follow-up from Abby.  Operator, would you please open up Abigail’s line again, please?

OPERATOR:  Okay.  Please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Sorry, since no one else is jumping in, I thought I might toss out another question.  I recognize it’s difficult to give specific numbers, but I wondered if you might be able to say what the current backlog is in processing visas more broadly or speak to what that backlog looks like, or – and/or if you could give a little more specifics on what you’re seeing as far as applications for visas right now by Americans – by Ukrainians trying to come over to the U.S.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  I don’t have numbers for you at all on the backlog.  We do – particularly, I assume you’re asking about nonimmigrant visas.  Each post is different.  I do want to emphasize, as I said at the top, we do have an expedite channel, so even if the wait time for a routine B1/B2 visa is lengthy, someone with exceptional circumstances – a medical or unique humanitarian need – can request an expedite.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Okay, great.  With that, I’d like to thank our briefers today – [Senior Administration Official One], [Senior Administration Official Two], and also [Senior Administration Official Three].  Again, thank you.

Once again, as a quick reminder, this call was on background today with attribution to senior administration officials.  With that, we are concluding today’s conference call and the embargo is now lifted.  Thank you.