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Lech Walesa, in Connecticut, talks about Ukrainian refugee crisis and Russian threat

Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa speaks during a World Affairs Council forum in Hartford on May 10.
Nick Caito
World Affairs Council of Connecticut
Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa speaks during a World Affairs Council forum in Hartford on May 10.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa said the Ukrainian refugee crisis in his country is on a scale that’s hard to imagine. At a World Affairs Council forum in Hartford Tuesday, he said 3 million people, mostly women and children, arrived unexpectedly in Poland, and residents there are doing all they can.

“People have really shared everything they have: apartments, accommodations, food,” he said, speaking through a translator. “From what we can see right now, this is not the end to this crisis, and there will be more people coming.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winner said the current moment also offers an opportunity. As nations unite in support of Ukraine, Walesa urged them to address the larger danger that Russia presents to the world.

“Unless we really put the right order in Russia, Russia will rise again in five to 10 years and will constitute a threat to the rest of the world again,” he said.

Walesa called on the United States to reclaim global political and economic leadership. At the same time, he stressed that the U.S. needs new leadership strategies for a new era. He described communism as ineffective, and he believes capitalism as it exists now won’t work and must be reformed.

George Bush and Lech Walesa Waving
Bettmann/Bettmann Archive
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa (left) and President George Bush stand before a crowd of thousands in 1989 in Gdansk, Poland, at a monument dedicated to the workers who died in the 1970 strikes in the Lenin Shipyard.

Forty years ago, Walesa – a shipyard electrician – became the leader of the Polish trade union Solidarity. During the 1980s, millions of union members resisted communist rule. That led to free elections in 1990. Walesa won the presidential election in a landslide.

In addition to his World Affairs Council discussion, Walesa appeared this week at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, where he met Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.