Jill Biden thanks US troops in Romania amid Ukraine war

Darlene Superville, Associated Press

Posted Wednesday, June 22, 2022 at 9:06 a.m. EDT

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania (AP) — Offering good cheer — and 5 gallons of ketchup — Jill Biden thanked U.S. troops deployed in Romania to counter Russian aggression for their service as she embarked on a journey four days in Europe to see first-hand the refugee crisis caused by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

After an overnight flight from Washington, the first lady arrived at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, near the Black Sea, in time to help serve Friday dinner to US service members. About 1,600 of the several thousand American troops that President Joe Biden has deployed to Eastern Europe in preparation for the Russian-Ukrainian war have been sent to the base, which is about 100 kilometers from the border between the Romania and Ukraine.

Jill Biden served macaroni and cheese and baked potatoes — and encouraged troops not to jump onto the greens — before greeting small groups of service members at tables in the base dining hall. She also delivered bottles of ketchup, catering to a condiment shortage on the base, prompting cheers from the troops.

“I know it’s hard on your families,” she told a serviceman, referring to her own experience when her son Beau Biden deployed to Iraq.

Later, in a small room on the same base, Biden was filmed reading aloud from the children’s book “Night Catch” with Staff Sgt. Kenyan-born Sharon Rogers during a virtual story hour session for Rogers’ son, Nathan.

“Thank you for your service because when your mother serves, you serve too,” Biden said in a comment to Nathan.

The first lady also posed for photos with troops from the Delaware National Guard before flying to Bucharest, the Romanian capital, to continue the journey.

For weeks, the first lady was transfixed by the news from Ukraine, by the bombings and the scenes of “parents crying over the broken bodies of their children in the streets”, as she said in a recent speech. She is now using her second solo trip abroad to take a close look at the Ukrainian refugee crisis by visiting Romania and Slovakia, where Biden will spend Mother’s Day meeting displaced families in a small village on the border with Ukraine.

“It’s so important to the president and to me that the people of Ukraine know we’re on their side,” Jill Biden told reporters traveling with her Thursday night. She said earlier in the week that she wanted refugees to know “their resilience inspires me”. ”

NATO allies Romania and Slovakia border Ukraine and have taken in some of the millions of women and children, mostly women and children, who fled after Ukraine was invaded by Russia in late February, triggering the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Biden is using four days in Europe to highlight issues she promotes at home, including support for the US military, education and child welfare.

The centerpiece of the first lady’s trip comes on Sunday – Mother’s Day – when the mother-of-three meets 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 backtracked after learning on Thursday that she was a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Michael LaRosa said, Spokesperson for the First Lady. Ashley Biden has tested negative, LaRosa said.

“I know we may not share a language, but I hope to be able to convey, in way more than words, that their resilience inspires me, that they are not forgotten, and that all Americans are always alongside them,” Biden said. said earlier this week.

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 the Russian invasion, according to the UN refugee agency. Many have resettled in neighboring countries, such as Romania and Slovakia, or moved 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 entered Slovakia, according to government figures from those countries.

Biden has long been interested 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 famine-stricken Somali refugees 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, of which she served on the board.

Some refugee advocates said Biden’s trip would send a message that the United States takes its humanitarian commitment to the Ukrainian people seriously.

“Every First Lady has a far-reaching 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 Chief Executive Officer. head of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. and former policy director to first lady Michelle Obama.

Biden’s trip follows the visit of other US government officials to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

President Biden visited Ukrainian refugees during a stopover in Poland in March. It is the closest he has been to Ukraine and the White House says there are no plans for him to travel to Kyiv.

In Bucharest on Saturday, Biden planned to learn about humanitarian efforts, meet with Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis and visit a school where Ukrainian refugee students are enrolled before leaving for Slovakia. The first lady is an English teacher at a community college.

The next day in Kosice, Slovakia, Biden will visit a city-run refugee center and a public school that also hosts Ukrainian refugee students, where she will participate in Mother’s Day events with Ukrainian and Slovak mothers and children. . She will also visit the Slovak-Ukrainian border crossing at Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia.

The White House declined to say whether she would cross the border and enter Ukraine.

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 people of Ukraine in several ways. She wore a sunflower – Ukraine’s national flower – on her mask and a dress sleeve and traveled to a hospital in Tennessee to visit Ukrainian children being airlifted for cancer treatment.

She also sat Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, during President Biden’s State of the Union address in March.

The first lady’s first solo trip abroad brought her to Tokyo last year to represent the United States at the opening of the Olympic Games.

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