UZHHOROD, Ukraine - U.S. first lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday, holding a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with the nation’s first lady, Olena Zelenskyy, as Russia presses its punishing war in the eastern regions.
Biden traveled under the cloak of secrecy, becoming the latest high-profile American to enter Ukraine during its 10-week-old conflict with Russia.
Her visit follows recent stops in the war-torn country by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, as well as a joint trip by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
The first lady traveled by vehicle to the town of Uzhhorod from a Slovakian village that borders Ukraine.
KOSICE, SLOVAKIA - MAY 08: US First Lady Jill Biden (L) is greeted by the head of the primary school Tomasikova 31, Renata Obsatnikova (R) on May 8, 2022 in Kosice, Slovakia. (Photo by Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images)
Biden spent Mother’s Day meeting and offering support to Ukrainian mothers in Slovakia who have been displaced by Russia’s war and assuring them that the "hearts of the American people" are behind them.
At a bus station in the city of Kosice that is now a 24-hour refugee processing center, Biden found herself in an extended conversation with a Ukrainian woman who said she struggles to explain the war to her three children because she cannot understand it herself.
"I cannot explain because I don’t know myself and I’m a teacher," Victorie Kutocha, who had her arms around her 7-year-old daughter, Yulie, told Biden.
At one point, Kutocha asked, "Why?" seeming to seek an explanation for Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24.
’It’s so hard to understand," the first lady replied.
The 24-hour facility is one of six refugee centers in Slovakia, providing an average of 300 to 350 people daily with food, showers, clothing, emergency on-site accommodations and other services, according to information provided by the White House.
Biden, wearing a flower corsage on her wrist — a Mother's Day gift from President Joe Biden — also dropped in at a Slovakian public school that has taken in displaced students.
KOSICE, SLOVAKIA - MAY 08: US First Lady, Jill Biden speaks with Ukrainian children who fled to Slovakia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Mother's Day at Primary School Tomasikova 31 on May 8, 2022 in Kosice, Slovakia. (Photo by Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images)
Slovakian and Ukrainian moms were brought together at the school for a Mother’s Day event while their children made crafts to give them as gifts.
Biden went from table to table meeting the mothers and kids. She told some of the women that she wanted to come and " say the hearts of the American people are with the mothers of Ukraine."
"I just wanted to come and show you our support," she said before departing for the border village of Vysne Nemecke to tour its border processing facility.
At the border village, Biden surveyed operations set up by the United Nations and other relief organizations to assist Ukrainians seeking refuge in Slovakia. She attended a religious service in a tent set up as a chapel, where a priest intoned, "We pray for the people of Ukraine."
In recent weeks border crossings are averaging less than 2,000 per day, down from over 10,000 per day immediately following Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, and a large portion of that flow is daily cross border traffic.
Biden is on a four-day visit to Eastern Europe to highlight U.S. support for Ukrainian refugees and for the allied countries, like Romania and Slovakia, that are providing a safe haven for them.
She spent Friday and Saturday in Romania, visiting with U.S. troops and meeting with Ukrainian refugee mothers and children.