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Jill Biden goes to Ukraine to meet with First Lady Elena Zelenskaya – Chicago Tribune

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UZHHOROD, Ukraine – Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday, holding a surprise meeting with First Lady Elena Zelenskaya on Mother’s Day as Russia pushes for its punitive war in the eastern regions.

Biden traveled under cover of secrecy, becoming the last high-profile American to enter Ukraine during its 10-week conflict with Russia.

“I wanted to come to Mother’s Day,” said Zelenska, the first lady of the United States. “I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war must stop, and this war has been brutal, and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.”

In Ukraine, Biden spent about two hours driving to Uzhhorod, about a 10-minute drive from a Slovak village she visited on the border.

The two first ladies gathered in a small classroom, sitting across the table from each other and greeting each other in front of reporters before meeting in person. Zelenska and her children were in an unknown location for their safety.

Zelenska thanked Biden for his “courageous act” and said: “We understand the need for the first lady of the United States to come here during the war, when hostilities take place every day, where air sirens sound every day – even today.”

The school where they met has been converted into transitional housing for Ukrainian migrants from other countries.

The visit allowed Biden to conduct personal diplomacy, which her husband would like to conduct.

President Joe Biden said during a visit to Poland in March that he was disappointed that he could not visit Ukraine to see the conditions “first hand”, but that he was not allowed to do so, probably for security reasons. As early as last week, the White House said the president “would like to visit,” but at the moment he has no plans to do so.

The meeting came after the first two ladies exchanged correspondence in recent weeks, according to U.S. officials, who declined to give more details because they were not authorized to discuss the ladies’ private communications.

When she came to school, Biden, who was dressed as a gift to her husband for Mother’s Day, hugged Zelenskaya and gave her a bouquet.

After a private meeting, they joined a group of children living at the school and crafted bears out of paper to present them on Mother’s Day.

Biden’s visit follows recent stops in the war-torn House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, as well as a joint visit by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to meet with President Vladimir Zelensky in Kyiv. .

Her visit was restricted to Western Ukraine; Russia is concentrating its military power in eastern Ukraine and is not threatened. On the same day as Biden’s visit, a Russian bomb destroyed a school in eastern Ukraine, which housed about 90 people in the basement, killing dozens.

Earlier, in the village of Vyshne-Nemetske, which borders Slovakia, she visited a border processing shop, inspecting operations set up by the United Nations and other aid organizations to help asylum-seeking Ukrainians. Biden attended a religious service in a tent set up as a chapel, where the priest chanted, “We pray for the people of Ukraine.”

Before that, Biden met in Kosice and offered support to Ukrainian mothers in Slovakia who had been displaced as a result of the Russian war. She assured them that behind them were “the hearts of the American people.”

At the bus station in the city, which is now a round-the-clock refugee treatment center, Biden found himself in a long conversation with a Ukrainian woman who said she was struggling to explain the war to her three children because she herself could not understand it.

“I can’t explain because I don’t know myself and I’m a teacher,” Victoria Kutocha, who hugged her 7-year-old daughter Julia, 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,” replied the first lady.

The 24-hour shelter is one of six refugee centers in Slovakia that provides an average of 300 to 350 people a day with food, showers, clothing, emergency services and other services, according to the White House.

Biden also went to a Slovak public school that accepted displaced students.

Slovak and Ukrainian mothers gathered at the school for the Mother’s Day event, and their children made crafts to give them gifts.

Biden walked from table to table, meeting mothers and children. She told some women she wanted to come and “say that the hearts of the American people are from Mother Ukraine.”

“I just wanted to come and show you our support,” she said before leaving for Vyshne-Nemek.

In recent weeks, the average number of border crossings is less than 2,000 per day, compared to more than 10,000 per day immediately after the Russian invasion on February 24, and a significant portion of this flow is daily cross-border transport.

Biden is on a four-day visit to Eastern Europe to underscore U.S. support for Ukrainian refugees and allied countries such as Romania and Slovakia, which provide them with safe haven.

She spent Friday and Saturday in Romania, visiting US troops and meeting with Ukrainian mothers and refugee children.

During her trip, the American First Lady followed in the footsteps of previous First Ladies who also traveled to war zones or conflicts.

Eleanor Roosevelt visited servicemen abroad during World War II to help boost the fighting spirit of the troops. According to the National Library of First Lady, Pat Nixon joined President Richard Nixon on his trip to South Vietnam in 1969, becoming the first first lady to visit the combat zone. She flew 18 miles from Saigon in an open helicopter accompanied by U.S. Secret Service agents.

Hillary Clinton visited the war zone, stopping in Bosnia in 1996. Four years after the 9/11 attacks and during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Laura Bush traveled to Kabul in 2005, and Melania Trump accompanied President Donald Trump to Iraq in December 2018.

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