In July, my family and I traveled to Poland, a nation currently hosting well over one million Ukrainian refugees. Our goal was to better grasp the extent of the Ukrainian peoples’ suffering. What we saw shook us to the core.
In one city, we visited a boarding house overflowing with women and children, paralyzed with anxiety at what will become of their husbands and fathers on the battlefield. Another stop took us to an orphanage, where the smiles of the youngest children at playtime mask deep traumas.
These miseries have become commonplace among the downtrodden Ukrainian people. And Americans must continue to help relieve them — for the sake of their lives and our national legacy.
Standing with the Ukrainian people is a mission of deep family significance. My wife Suzanne’s mother was born to Ukrainian immigrant parents, and her father immigrated to the United States from Ternopil, Ukraine, after World War II. But my focus on helping Ukrainians stems far beyond family blood — it’s also a matter of upholding America’s leadership role in the world.
From 2017 to 2021, I had the great honor of serving as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. That experience showed me the importance of sustaining America’s commitment as a force for international good — a track record unmatched by any other nation in human history.
The historical examples of our willingness to help are endless, but I think often of how the US and Britain refused to let the Soviet Union use starvation as a weapon against West Berlin when they closed off part of that city from outside supplies. For 11 months in 1948 and 1949, the two allies airlifted 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and other provisions right into the blockaded region to keep West Berliners alive.
During World War II, my grandfather Robert Wood Johnson reached the rank of brigadier general and was widely known as “General Johnson.” He also penned the Johnson & Johnson credo: “We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well.”
Americans understand the meaning of these words, especially this year with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The US government has contributed more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the war — by far the most of any nation. But what makes Americans a truly special people is our commitment to philanthropy that far exceeds what our tax dollars pay for.
We see it in the thousands of Americans opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees. We see churches in Iowa helping supply meals to Ukrainians throughout Europe. We see a 17-year-old girl on Long Island starting a program at her school to bring toys to Ukrainian children.
These stories should inspire us all to action, especially as the crisis becomes more urgent. The war seems to have no end in sight, and approximately 5.8 million Ukrainians have become refugees alongside the roughly 6.2 million Ukrainians displaced inside their own country. They and those caring for them need our help, which is why the Jets have pledged an initial commitment of $1 million to aid Ukrainians.
That money is being distributed in $100,000 increments to worthy organizations spearheading relief efforts, including Plast Scouting, Razom for Ukraine, and the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America. July’s donation went to United24, the Ukrainian government’s official arm for collecting charitable donations. I’m grateful to know those funds will help fund multiple children’s hospitals in Ukraine, where many youths are recuperating from wounds brutally inflicted by falling rockets and missiles.
Some Americans may question why humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people should remain a priority, in light of so many problems raging in our own country. For one, it’s morally right for the richest nation on earth to devote some portion of its resources to care for those beyond its borders. It’s also firmly in our national interest for the world to see which country defends the oppressed and cares for the vulnerable. When America comes to the rescue, we earn trust, respect and credibility in the eyes of other nations, and create a powerful distinction between us and adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran in our high respect for human dignity.
When the history books are written, the world will know which nation came to the rescue more enthusiastically than any other.
One of my heroes, Winston Churchill, once recalled a remark he had heard as a young man: “The United States is like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.”
I am proud of how Americans have yet again revealed our national character and concern for humanity in our world-leading generosity toward Ukrainians. Now that our fire is lit, let’s keep harnessing our limitless power to serve them.
Robert Wood Johnson is the Chairman of the New York Jets. He served as the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, 2017-2021.