Biden arrives in Kyiv on surprise visit to war zone
US president makes first trip to Ukraine ahead of 1-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
KYIV — U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Kyiv on Monday morning for his first visit to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022 — where he announced more military hardware for the country.
“Joseph Biden, welcome to Kyiv! Your visit is an extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Telegram, in both Ukrainian and English. He posted a photo to social media of the pair standing in front of Ukrainian and American flags.
In his own post on Twitter, Biden said: “As we approach the anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, I’m in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.”
Biden’s visit was a show of support for Ukraine and its president as the country prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24. Biden came bearing more than symbolism: In a joint address with Zelenskyy, he announced half a billion dollars of additional assistance to Ukraine, which would include military equipment such as artillery munitions, javelins and howitzers.
Biden also said partners have approved the transfer of 700 tanks and thousands of armored vehicles to Ukraine. “Together with more than 50 partner countries, we have approved more than 700 tanks and thousands of armored vehicles,” the U.S. president said.
Pressure had been mounting on Biden to make the trip to Ukraine, given that a host of European leaders had previously gone to Kyiv to demonstrate their support for the country. But ensuring the president’s security had been a concern for the U.S. side, as Kyiv is frequently the target of missile attacks by Russia. Indeed, as Biden toured Kyiv with Zelenskyy, air raid sirens went off in the Ukrainian capital.
Biden remained on the ground for roughly five hours, visiting the embassy and walking the streets of Ukraine’s beleaguered capital — the same city Russia tried to seize 12 months ago — and meeting with Zelenskyy. He was flanked by a handful of staffers, including his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan said Biden met with Zelenskyy one-on-one after an initial greeting and met with the Ukrainian leader’s top aides. “They spent time talking about the coming months, in terms of the battlefield and what Ukraine needs in terms of capabilities to be able to succeed on the battlefield,” said Sullivan.
The shock appearance happened under immense secrecy, with Biden taking off from Washington at 4:15 a.m. local time. U.S. officials had expressed concerns that Biden couldn’t fly into Ukraine or take a ten-hour train ride without immense risk to the host nation or himself. Ensuring the president’s safety was a near-impossible endeavor, those officials said, though they acknowledged Biden had long wanted to go Kyiv.
Hours in advance of the trip, U.S. officials notified their Russian counterparts that the president would be going for the purposes of “deconfliction.” They did not detail how the Russians responded.
Biden eventually arrived in Kyiv at 8 a.m. local time, where he was greeted by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink.
“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” Biden declared as he met with Zelenskyy at Mariinsky Palace.
“Thank you so much for coming Mr. President at a huge moment for Ukraine,” said Zelenskyy.
“It’s presumptuous of me to say this but I thought it was important that the president of the United States be here the day that the attack began,” Biden said. “Because as the president remember, I was warning the world that Putin was going to attack.”
“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said.
“The Ukrainian people have stepped up in a way that few people ever have in the past,” he added.
Reports about a possible visit by the American president ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion began circulating earlier in the day, as U.S. military jets were seen circling near the Polish border and Kyiv residents posted videos on social media of lockdowns in the city center and near the U.S. Embassy. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also canceled a planned visit to Brussels on Monday for the Foreign Affairs Council.
“This visit is a victory for the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy. It was carried out against all odds and for the sake of the victory of Ukraine and the entire free world,” said Kuleba.
Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk hinted at the big news, saying on television that an exciting announcement was coming “very soon.”
“I hope that the surprise that is being prepared will be successful. After all, it is important for us that on the eve of the first anniversary of aggression, large-scale aggression, we will feel and see not only verbal support, not only solidarity but also even greater help and also the presence of our important, main partner in Kyiv,” Melnyk said.
Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of the president of Ukraine, called Biden’s visit to Ukraine’s capital “historic” and “strategic.” He thanked U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for helping to plan the visit.
A Ukrainian government official told POLITICO the Ukrainians “have been requesting this visit for a long time.” The official added that the visit had been prepared “in a very short amount of time” — around one week, “with the utmost level of secrecy through Yermak’s and Kuleba’s lines of communication.”
Biden had been scheduled to travel to Poland on Monday, which provided an opportunity for the surprise side-trip to Ukraine. Biden is expected to travel to Warsaw next, where he’s set to deliver a speech Tuesday to celebrate Ukraine’s ability to withstand the attack from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces.
This article is being updated.
Suzanne Lynch, Alexander Ward and Jonathan Lemire contributed reporting.