UZHHOROD, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. First Lady Jill Biden paid an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday and held a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with the nation’s First Lady Olena Zelenska as Russia presses ahead with its crushing war in the eastern regions .
Traveling under the guise of secrecy, Biden became the latest high-profile American to enter Ukraine during its 10-week conflict with Russia.
“I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden told Zelenskyy. “I felt it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war must stop and that this war was brutal and that the people of the United States stand behind the people of Ukraine.”
The first lady traveled by vehicle to the town of Uzhhorod, about a 10-minute drive from a Slovak village that borders Ukraine. She spent about two hours in Ukraine.
The two met in a small classroom, sat across a table and chatted in front of reporters before meeting privately. Zelenskyy and her children were in an undisclosed location for their safety.
Zelenskyy thanked Biden for her “brave act” and said: “We understand what it takes for the US First Lady to come here during a war, when military action is taking place every day, where the air sirens are being heard every day – even today.” still .”
The school where they met has been turned into a temporary shelter for Ukrainian migrants from other parts of the country.
The visit allowed Biden to engage in the kind of personal diplomacy that her husband would happily engage in himself.
President Joe Biden, during his visit to Poland in March, said he was disappointed he couldn’t visit Ukraine to get “first-hand” information on conditions but probably wouldn’t be allowed to for security reasons. The White House said just last week that the President “would like to visit” but has no plans for him at this time.
The meeting came after the two first ladies exchanged correspondence over the past few weeks, according to US officials, who declined to give further details because they were not authorized to discuss the ladies’ private communications.
When she arrived at the school, Biden, who was wearing a Mother’s Day corset that was a gift from her husband, hugged Zelenskyy and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.
After meeting privately, the two joined a group of kids living at the school and made bears out of tissue paper to give as Mother’s Day gifts.
Jill Biden’s visit follows recent visits to the war-torn country by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, as well as a joint trip by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy KIEV.
Her visit was limited to western Ukraine; Russia concentrates its military power in eastern Ukraine and it was not in danger.
Earlier, in the Slovakian border village of Vysne Nemecke, she toured the border processing facility and toured the operations set up by the United Nations and other aid agencies to support Ukrainians seeking refuge. Biden attended a service in a tent set up as a chapel, where a priest intoned, “We pray for the people of Ukraine.”
Earlier in Kosice, Biden met Ukrainian mothers in Slovakia displaced by the Russian war and offered them support, assuring them that the “hearts of the American people” are behind them.
At a bus stop in the city, which is now a 24-hour refugee processing center, Biden found himself having a lengthy conversation with a Ukrainian woman who said she struggled to explain war to her three children because they didn’t understand it themselves could.
“I can’t explain it because I don’t know myself and I’m a teacher,” Victorie Kutocha, who had her arms around her 7-year-old daughter Yulie, told Biden.
At one point, Kutocha asked, “Why?” seems to be looking for an explanation for Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on February 24.
“It’s so hard to understand,” the First Lady replied.
The 24-hour facility is one of six refugee centers in Slovakia and provides food, showers, clothing, on-site emergency shelter and other services to an average of 300 to 350 people a day, according to the White House.
Biden also attended a Slovakian public school that has taken in displaced students.
Slovak and Ukrainian mothers were brought together at school for a Mother’s Day event while their children made crafts to give as gifts.
Biden went from table to table to meet the mothers and children. She told some women she wanted to come and “say that the hearts of the American people are with the mothers of Ukraine.”
“I just wanted to come and show you our support,” she said before heading to Vysne Nemecke.
In recent weeks, border crossings have averaged fewer than 2,000 per day, compared to over 10,000 per day immediately after the Russian invasion on February 24, and a large part of that flow is daily cross-border traffic.
Biden is on a four-day visit to Eastern Europe to highlight U.S. support for Ukrainian refugees and for allied countries like Romania and Slovakia that provide them with a safe haven.
She spent Friday and Saturday in Romania, visiting US troops and meeting with Ukrainian refugee mothers and children.
With her journey, the American First Lady followed the path of formerly seated First Ladies, who also traveled to war or conflict zones.
Eleanor Roosevelt visited soldiers abroad during World War II to boost troops’ morale. Pat Nixon accompanied President Richard Nixon on his 1969 trip to South Vietnam and became the first First Lady to visit a combat zone, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. She flew 18 miles from Saigon in an open-top helicopter, escorted by US Secret Service agents.
Hillary Clinton visited a combat zone and stopped in Bosnia in 1996. Four years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and during the US-led war in Afghanistan, Laura Bush traveled to Kabul in 2005 and Melania Trump accompanied President Donald Trump to Iraq in December 2018.
https://www.kron4.com/news/jill-biden-pays-surprise-visit-to-ukraine-meets-first-lady/ Jill Biden pays surprise visit to Ukraine and meets First Lady