President Biden made a surprise stop in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and bringing word of new aid as the nation prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
“It’s good to be back in Kyiv,” said Biden, who sported a tie in Ukraine’s colors, blue and yellow. It was Biden’s first trip to the capital city since the war began and his eighth visit overall. He spent roughly five hours in Kyiv before departing the city.
Ambassador Bridget Brink greeted him on arrival, and Zelensky and Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, welcomed Biden as he arrived at Mariinsky Palace just after 8:30 a.m. local time.
As the leaders headed into a bilateral meeting, Biden noted the reason behind the unannounced stop: “I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in the war.”
He noted that while some in Congress have called for a deceleration of aid to Ukraine, there is broad support for the nation’s cause. “It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine … It’s about freedom of democracy at large.”
In joint remarks with Zelensky, Biden announced half a billion dollars of additional aid to Ukraine, including military equipment, with more details to be released in the coming days. The announcement comes as Biden faces mounting pressure from Kyiv and at home to follow its recent offer of battle tanks with a supply of F-16 fighter jets.
“Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map,” Biden said. “Putin’s war of conquest is failing.”
“Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided … He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now.”
Zelensky thanked Biden for his leadership and Americans for their support from the start of the war.
Biden, left, meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at Mariinsky Palace during an unannounced visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)
The Ukrainian president said discussion is ongoing on the U.S. sending long-range missiles to Ukraine. Noting the aid package Biden announced, Zelensky said the moment stood as a “clear signal that Russia’s attempts of relaunch will have no chance.”
“This conversation brings us closer to the victory,” Zelensky said. “Today our negotiations were very fruitful …They were very important and crucial.”
“Historic. Timely. Brave. I welcomed @POTUS in Kyiv as Russian full-scale aggression approaches its one-year mark. I am thankful to the U.S. for standing with Ukraine and for our strong partnership. We are determined to work together to ensure Ukraine’s victory,” Zelensky said later on Twitter.
Biden told Zelensky of Americans’ “unwavering support for the nation’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“So many have kept the Ukrainian people, particularly women and children, in their prayers,” Biden said. “They can’t fathom the idea of the shelling of everything from orphanages to schools to the like. It’s barbaric.”
After almost two hours at the palace, the leaders traveled a short distance to St. Michael’s Gold-Domed Cathedral in central Kyiv, where they took a walk around the complex, a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
The cathedral’s sky-blue and golden buildings gave shelter in 2013 to pro-Western protesters under a president backed by Russia.
Air raid sirens could be heard throughout the city as the two leaders left the cathedral.
Biden’s trip came after National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Sunday that there were “no plans” for Biden to even step over the border to enter Ukraine on his planned trip to Poland this week.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday morning that the administration gave Russian officials a heads up about the trip before Biden’s departure for Ukraine “for deconfliction purposes.”
After leaving Kyiv, Biden was scheduled to attend a bilateral meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda and deliver remarks on global unity in Warsaw.
Vice President Harris said late last week the U.S. had formally determined Russia committed crimes against humanity during the war, with fighting set to enter its second year later this week.
Biden’s visit follows Zelensky’s historic trip to the U.S. in December, when the two leaders talked at the White House and the Ukrainian leader later addressed a joint session of Congress in an impassioned plea for global unity and additional aid to his nation.
A number of other top U.S. figures have traveled to Ukraine since the start of the war, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who led a congressional delegation to meet with Zelensky in May, just a few months after the invasion.
Biden is also the latest world leader to make the trip to Ukraine in person. Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron each made separate trips to the war-torn nation last year.
Julia Mueller and Brett Samuels contributed to this developing report