U.S. Army troops are preparing to move closer to Poland’s border with Ukraine to help process people fleeing the country after Russia launched an all-out assault, an Army spokesman said on Thursday.
Many of the 5,500 troops who arrived in Poland this month have been working with Polish forces to set up three processing centers near the border to help deal with tens of thousands of people, including Americans, who are expected to flee neighboring Ukraine.
Until Thursday, officials had seen barely a trickle of people come through the sites. But the flow is expected to grow as the conflict intensifies and expands.
Poland’s defense ministry introduced a higher alert level on Thursday, requiring soldiers from operational and territorial defense forces to stay in their units. All leave and business trips were canceled.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said that U.S. troops will not fight in Ukraine or rescue Americans trapped there by a Russian attack. But American commanders and their counterparts in Poland have been preparing parts of several Polish facilities for possible evacuees.
In Jasionka, Poland, an indoor arena has been outfitted with bunk beds and supplies for up to 500 people, and U.S. officials say that capacity could be quickly expanded.
American officials have estimated that a nationwide attack on Ukraine could result in one million to five million refugees, with many of them going to Poland. That could lead to the largest arrival of refugees in Europe since more than one million migrants and refugees arrived in 2015, a dynamic that had a profound effect on European politics by bolstering far-right parties.