U.S. President Joe Biden paid an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Monday – his first visit to a war zone as president – to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky in a defiant display of Western solidarity with a country still fighting what he called “a brutal and unjust war,” AP reported.
“One year later, Kyiv stands,” Biden declared after meeting with Zelensky at Mariinsky Palace just four days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion. “And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”
Biden spent more than five hours in the Ukrainian capital, consulting with Zelensky on next steps, honoring the country’s fallen soldiers and meeting with U.S. embassy staff in the war-torn country.
The U.S. president got a taste of the terror that Ukrainians had lived with for nearly a year when air raids sirens howled just as he and Zelensky wrapped up a visit to the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral.
In Kyiv, Biden announced an additional half-billion dollars in U.S. assistance — on top of the more than $50 billion already provided — including shells for howitzers, anti-tank missiles, air surveillance radars and other aid but no new advanced weaponry. Zelensky said he and Biden spoke about “long-range weapons and the weapons that may still be supplied to Ukraine even though it wasn’t supplied before,” but he did not detail any new commitments.
Biden warned that the “brutal and unjust war” is far from won. “The cost that Ukraine has had to bear has been extraordinarily high. And the sacrifices have been far too great,” Biden said. “We know that there’ll be very difficult days and weeks and years ahead. But Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing.”
“He’s counting on us not sticking together,” Biden said of the Russian leader. “He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now. God knows what he’s thinking, but I don’t think he’s thinking that. But he’s just been plain wrong.”
Zelensky said through an interpreter that the “wide discussion” in their meeting “brings us closer to the victory” — hopefully, he added, this year.
“Right now, in Ukraine, the destiny of the international order … is decided,” the Ukrainian president said. He added words of gratitude to Biden and the American people for their support. “Ukraine is grateful to you, Mr. President, to all the U.S. citizens, to all those who cherish freedom just as we cherish it.”
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko called Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday “important” and “symbolic.”
“It’s a risky trip, it’s a tough decision, but it’s very important, and it has symbolism… it shows the whole world that the United States supports Ukraine,” he told CNN.
He added that Ukrainian soldiers have already shown the world their “will and spirit,” but this is not enough.
“It’s very important [to have] modern weapons… to be honest, we depend [on the] help of our partners,” Klitschko said.
According to Reuters, Biden also said additional sanctions would be announced this week against the Russian elite and companies trying to evade sanctions to “back the Russian war machine.”
The U.S. president appeared to make no mention of fighter jets, which Ukraine has been seeking from Western allies to help it push back the Russian forces.
Describing the trip as “historic,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said both Biden and Zelensky were pleased with their talks and that the visit sent a message of resolve to Russia, which he called “the swamp.”
“This visit is the victory of the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskiy… It is a clear signal to the swamp – no one is afraid of you!” he said.
The howl from the swamp was heard soon.
Pro-Russian military bloggers and propagandists have criticized the Kremlin for not being able to prevent Biden from visiting Kyiv. CNN cited a few comments, one of which calls the visit “demonstrative humiliation of Russia,” and another says there would have been no surprise had Biden gone to Bakhmut as well, and nothing happened to him.
Despite air alert sirens in #Kyiv, the two leaders, @POTUS and @ZelenskyyUa, have honored the memory of the brave 🇺🇦 defenders, who lost their lives repelling RU’s genocidal military aggression against UA.
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! pic.twitter.com/eVwf5uLRHy
— Ukrainian World Congress 🇺🇦 (@UWCongress) February 20, 2023