Washington- first lady dr. Jill Biden took a surprise trip toon Sunday, a meeting with Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska and a visit to Ukrainian children displaced by the ongoing war with Russia.
Biden, who began her journey to Eastern Europe on Thursday, crossed the border from Slovakia into southwestern Ukraine on Sunday afternoon for the unannounced visit to a public school in Uzhhorod that was being converted into a temporary shelter, housing 163 Ukrainians, including 47 children. It was a rare visit from an American first lady to a war zone.
The first lady was greeted by Zelenska, who has not been seen in public since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, according to a US official. The official said the two women have exchanged correspondence in recent weeks.
“I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden told reporters who traveled with her. “We thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop, and that this war has been cruel, and that the people of the United States stand behind the people of Ukraine.”
Zelenska called Biden’s visit a “very brave act”.
“Because we understand what it takes for the US first lady to come here during a war when the military actions are happening every day, where the air sirens are sounding every day, even today,” she said. “We all feel your support and we all feel the leadership of the US President, but we want to note that Mother’s Day is a very symbolic day for us as we also feel your love and support during such an important day.”
Biden and Zelenska held a private bilateral meeting for about an hour, after which they met children who made bears out of cardboard and tissue paper for their mothers.
The first lady returned to Slovakia after spending about two hours in Ukraine.
Biden joins a growing number of top US officials who have made secret visits to Ukraine in recent weeks. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austinof Kiev in April, and a delegation of House Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week to the capital and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
President Biden has not traveled to Ukraine, although he visited Eastern Europe in March.
Biden’s unannounced stoppage in Ukraine is the first by the wife of a sitting president in a war zone since Laura Bush visited Afghanistan in 2008. The former first lady also visited Afghanistan in 2005. In 2015, Michelle Obama traveled to Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, which has been designated a combat zone since 1991, to meet with troops.