U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture Cindy McCain spoke with VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze during her visit to Rzeszow, Poland. McCain was in Rzeszow on Friday, visiting a food distribution center on the Polish border with Ukraine to see what aid is making it to the Ukrainian refugees.
VOA: "So, Cindy, you're here in Rzeszow these days. What has your experience been with this crisis amidst this war in Ukraine?"
Ambassador Cindy McCain: "Well, I came here specifically so that I could take a look at the operations that were going on here at reception centers, how our U.N. agencies are performing, and where we can figure out the gaps. And as you know, there's a huge food crisis. So, my role in this is to see what else we can do, how we can manage this, and how we can, can do more with less. And and that's my primary role here. But I have to say, I was utterly overwhelmed with the graciousness and the kindness of the Polish people. This is a lesson in how to treat your fellow man here."
VOA: "We have an enormous food crisis because of the war in Ukraine. Ukraine is one of the biggest agricultural countries and delivers a lot of food, specifically to the needs of Africa and the Middle East. How did you see the impact and what is ... is the world ready to do something about it?"
McCain: "Well, the impacts, I mean, it's a ripple effect that goes around the world. I think the ... what we need to be concerned with right now is in the immediate needs, of course, of the people that are, that are en route or have already arrived in various parts of Europe now, not just Poland, but other parts. And also, the long ... we have to look at the long term. I mean, how do we now make it sustainable, you know, to be able to manage and to be able to feed people, give them dignity of life, give them a future. And that's a big job. And so, all of our U.N. agencies are working together on this, to not only, not only work on the immediate needs, but work on the long-term plans of it. And it's a huge problem, as you know."
VOA: "Are they — are those agencies effective? I'm hearing different views, different assessments. Do you think that international agencies are fast and effective enough in this, in this crisis?"
McCain: "Well, I think, for instance, agencies that are emergency relief agencies like World Food Program are meant to do just that. They are fast. They are nimble. They, you know, they are there in a nanosecond on most of these things. And the other agencies are long term. So of course, it takes a little longer to gear up and to build up because each situation is different. Nevertheless, they all work together very well. And there's always room for improvement in wherever you are, but I think the U.N. is doing a marvelous job here."
VOA: "About their presence on the ground. I talked to some representatives from the Ukrainian government, and they are asking for more food on the ground from the international community. They said that they don't see them there, and it's important for them to understand what is going on on the ground to have a better assessment of the needs."
McCain: "Well, I think there's more than you would think on the ground, because every agency that I've spoken to while I've been here, there are people on the ground. But again, you know, this is a tough area and things are dangerous. So, there's a give and take as to, you know, how you commit your people and making sure that they're also safe. But I understand people's frustration. I also understand the urgency in all of this. Because it is an urgent, an urgent event and an urgent crisis. But, but I think, you know, we'll see what happens here. There is one person that can stop this and that is Vladimir Putin. He can stop bombing and pull out."
VOA: "It's a more political question, but Russia is still part of the Security Council, U.N. Security Council, and obviously have a veto on the decision-making in the U.N. Is there any efforts or movement on, on the point of maybe kicking Russia out of Security Council?"
McCain: "Well, you know, my area of expertise and what I work on is food. And within our own organizations, though, the Russians were attempting to become vice president of World Food Program Board, things like that, and of course, we stopped that. It would — to me it would be an incredible disappointment if somehow the Russians were put in charge of an agency that is managing the largest crises in the world, and the people that are perpetrating it are somehow running it. So, we, we stopped it. And you know, we have to stop them at every point. And again, keeping in mind what we do as a group, my group here, is to feed, and to, to ... not just short-term feeding but long-term feeding. Finding seeds now, making sure that we can produce crops. There are crops in the ground right now, but we may not be able to get them out of the ground because of mining, because of, you know, all the other, all the other issues that are coming about. We'll get some of it out, but we won't get all of it out. And so therein lies a huge worldwide problem."
VOA: "I'm hearing that, I mean, the experts say that this, this effect of this war would be doubled, as we had effect from the coronavirus crisis two years ago. What are the U.N. agency, what are the other agencies prepared to do to, kind of, make the effect have a little bit less of the impact?"
McCain: "Well, I think, you know, Europe is certainly bearing some of the brunt of this. And I think, I think that if we carefully manage this and making sure — keeping in mind that food and agriculture being my most important part of this — but working together and being — as you've seen the world community is unanimously against this whole thing, and so I think you'll see a world community galvanized and being, and willing, being willing to absorb a lot of this and making sure that these people have dignity and respect. I mean, this is a terrible thing that's happening."
VOA: "We have to stop the war."
McCain: "Yeah, we do have to stop the war, you're right."
VOA: "OK, thank you so much ... ."
McCain: "Thank you."