For weeks, First Lady Jill Biden has been transfixed by news coming out of Ukraine, by bombings and scenes of “parents crying over the mangled bodies of their children in the streets,” as she said in a recent speech.
Now Biden is using his second solo foreign trip to take a closer look at the Ukrainian refugee crisis by visiting Romania and Slovakia, where he will spend Mother’s Day meeting with displaced families in a small Slovakian town on the Ukrainian border. Biden, who opens the visit Friday in Romania, told reporters traveling with her on Thursday night: “It is very important for the president and for me that the Ukrainian people know that we support them.” She said earlier in the week that she wants refugees to know that “your resilience inspires me.”
NATO allies Romania and Slovakia border Ukraine and have taken in some of the millions of people, mostly women and children, who fled after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, triggering the biggest crisis ever. of refugees in Europe since World War II.
Biden will also use his four days in Europe to highlight issues he promotes at home, such as support for American service members, education and children’s well-being. After flying overnight from Washington, Biden was due to arrive at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, near the Black Sea, in time to help serve Friday dinner to American service members stationed there. Some of the several thousand US troops that President Joe Biden deployed to eastern Europe before the war were sent to the base, which is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Romania’s border with Ukraine.
The centerpiece of the first lady’s trip comes on Sunday, Mother’s Day, when Biden, a mother of three, meets with displaced Ukrainians who have sought refuge across the border in Slovakia. Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden, had planned to accompany her mother to Europe but backed off after learning Thursday that she was a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, said Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for the first lady. Ashley Biden tested negative, LaRosa said.
“I can only imagine the pain families are feeling,” Jill Biden said this week. “I know we may not share a language, but I hope I can convey, in ways bigger than words, that your resilience inspires me. May they not be forgotten, and may all Americans stand with them.”
The first lady will also meet with aid workers, educators, government officials and US embassy staff during the trip, the White House said. Nearly 6 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled their country since Russia’s invasion, according to the UN refugee agency. Many have resettled in neighboring countries, such as Romania and Slovakia, or have gone elsewhere in Europe to try to rebuild their lives. More than 850,000 Ukrainians have entered Romania since the invasion, while nearly 400,000 have crossed into Slovakia, according to government figures from those countries.
Biden has long shown an interest in the plight of refugees around the world.
In 2011, when her husband was vice president, she traveled to drought-stricken East Africa to visit Somali refugees from famine in Kenya’s Dadaab camp. In 2017, she visited refugees in Chios, Greece, as part of the work of the aid organization Save The Children, on whose board she served.
Some refugee advocates said Biden’s trip will send a message that the United States is serious about its humanitarian commitment to the Ukrainian people.
“Every first lady has a powerful platform to raise awareness and this trip will be an important tool in mobilizing additional support for those forced to flee their homeland,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of the Service. Lutheran Immigration and Refugees. and previously chief policy officer for first lady Michelle Obama. Jill Biden’s trip will be the last to the region by a US government representative following recent visits to kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
President Biden visited with Ukrainian refugees during a stopover in Poland in March. That’s the closest he’s ever been to the Ukraine. The White House has said there are no current plans for him to visit kyiv.
Following her time with U.S. service members, the first lady was scheduled to spend Saturday in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, to learn about humanitarian efforts, meet with Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis and tour a school where Ukrainian refugee students are enrolled before leaving for Slovakia. Biden is an English teacher at a community college.
On Sunday, he heads to Kosice, Slovakia, to visit a city-run refugee center and a public school that also houses Ukrainian refugee students, where he will spend time with Ukrainian and Slovak mothers and children as they participate in the Day of Mother. Afterwards, she will travel to the Slovakia-Ukraine border crossing at Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia.
The White House declined to comment on whether he will cross the border and enter Ukraine. You will also visit a small Greek Catholic chapel in Vysne Nemecke that serves refugees.
Monday brings a meeting with Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, the country’s first female president, before Biden returns to Washington. The first lady has shown her support for the Ukrainian people in various ways. She wore a sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower, on her mask and on the sleeve of a dress, and she traveled to a Tennessee hospital to visit Ukrainian children who had flown there for cancer treatment.
She had Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, sit with her during President Biden’s State of the Union address in March, and she went to Army Fort Campbell in Kentucky to visit the families of American soldiers who were deployed to Europe to help with the Ukraine crisis.
The trip is the second abroad by the first lady alone. She flew to Tokyo last year to represent the United States at the opening of the Olympics.