KYIV, Ukraine — President Biden swept unannounced into Ukraine on Monday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a defiant display of Western solidarity with a country still fighting what he called “a brutal and unjust war” days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
“One year later, Kyiv stands,” Biden declared after meeting Zelenskyy at Mariinsky Palace. Jabbing his finger for emphasis on his podium, against a backdrop of three flags from each country, he continued: “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 Zelenskyy on next steps, honoring the country’s fallen soldiers and seeing U.S. embassy staff in the besieged country. Altogether he was on Ukrainian territory for about 23 hours, traveling by train from and back to Poland.
The visit came at a crucial moment: Biden is trying to keep allies unified in their support for Ukraine as the war is expected to intensify with spring offensives. Zelenskyy is pressing allies to speed up delivery of promised weapon systems and calling on the West to provide fighter jets — something that Biden has declined to do.
The U.S. president got a taste of the terror that Ukrainians have lived with for close to a year when air raids sirens howled just as he and Zelenskyy wrapped up a visit to the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral.
Looking solemn, they continued unperturbed as they laid two wreaths and held a moment of silence at the Wall of Remembrance honoring Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2014, the year Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and Russian-backed fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine.
The White House would not go into specifics, but national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that it notified Moscow of Biden’s visit to Kyiv shortly before his departure from Washington “for deconfliction purposes” in an effort to avoid any miscalculation that could bring the two nuclear-armed nations into direct conflict.
In Kyiv, Biden announced an additional half-billion dollars in U.S. assistance — on top of the more than $50 billion already provided — for shells for howitzers, anti-tank missiles, air surveillance radars and other aid but no new advanced weaponry.
The bloodiest fighting is, for the moment, concentrated in the country’s east, particularly around the city of Bakhmut, where Russian offensives are underway.
“The cost that Ukraine has had to bear has been extraordinarily high,” Biden said. “And the sacrifices have been far too great.” But “Putin’s war of conquest is failing.”
Biden quietly departed from Joint Base Andrews near Washington at 4:15 a.m. on Sunday, stopping at Ramstein Air Base in Germany before making his way into Ukraine on an overnight train from Poland. He arrived in Kyiv at 8 a.m. on Monday. He departed after 1 p.m. by train back to Poland.
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