First lady Jill Biden paid a surprise visit to Ukraine on Sunday and met the country’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.
It was the first time a US first lady traveled solo to a combat zone since 2015, when Michelle Obama visited Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base.
Biden crossed the border between Slovakia and Ukraine after visiting the Slovakian side of a border crossing in Vysne Nemecke.
She spent about two hours in Ukraine, visiting the city of Uzhhorod, in Zakarpattia Oblast in the southwestern corner of the country.
Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been in hiding with their children since the beginning of the war.
This was Zelenska’s first public appearance since the beginning of the war.
Biden and Zelenska met at a school converted into a shelter for internally displaced Ukrainians.
Zelenska got out of a black SUV guarded by a Ukrainian soldier. Biden handed her flowers and the two hugged.
Then they met for over an hour in a small side room behind closed doors.
When briefly brought in to the traveling press, Biden said: “I wanted to come on Mother’s Day. We felt it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop, and this war has been brutal. And the people of the US stand with the people of Ukraine.”
“We feel it,” Zelenska responded.
“First of all, I would like to thank you for your very brave act,” Zelenska continued. “Because we understand what it takes for the US first lady to come here during a war when the military actions take place every day, where the air sirens still sound every day even today.”
“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 had previously exchanged correspondence with Zelenska, according to US officials.
The first lady’s visit to Ukraine was not announced in advance and was not on Biden’s public schedule. Biden’s motorcade was shortened for the drive to Ukraine, and several staffers (and some traveling reporters) were left behind in Slovakia.