MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, ROMANIA (AP) – Served good cheer – and 5 gallons of ketchup – Jill Biden thanked US forces deployed in Romania to check Russian aggression on their service, beginning a four-day trip to Europe to see first-hand the refugee crisis caused by the invasion Moscow to Ukraine.
After flying out last night from Washington, the first lady arrived at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Force Base in Romania, near the Black Sea, in time to help serve Friday dinner for US service members. About 1,600 soldiers of the several thousand US forces that President Joe Biden deployed in Eastern Europe in the run-up to the Russo-Ukrainian War were sent to the base about 60 miles (100 km) from Romania’s border with Ukraine.
Jill Biden served macaroni and cheese and baked potatoes — and encouraged troops not to go out on the greens — before greeting small groups of service personnel at tables at the primary dining facility. She also handed out bottles of ketchup, in response to the lack of spices on the base, to the cheers of the troops.
“I know it’s hard for your family,” she told a service member, referring to her own experience when her son, Beau Biden, was sent to Iraq.
Later, in a small room on the same base, Biden is videotaped reading the children’s book “Night Catch” out loud with the sergeant. Sharon Rogers, from Kenya, in a virtual story session for Rogers’ son, Nathan.
“Thank you for your service because when you serve your mother, you serve too,” Biden said in a comment directed to Nathan.
The first lady also posed for photos with soldiers from the Delaware Army National Guard before heading to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, to continue the trip.
For weeks, the first lady was stunned by the news from Ukraine, with the bombings and scenes of “parents crying over the smashed bodies of their children in the streets,” she said in a recent speech. She is now using her second solo foreign trip to take a closer look at the Ukrainian refugee crisis by visiting Romania and Slovakia, where Biden will spend a Mother’s Day meeting with displaced families. In a small village on the border with Ukraine.
Jill Biden told reporters traveling with her Thursday night, earlier in the week, that she wanted the refugees to know that “their resilience inspires me.”
Romania and Slovakia, NATO allies, are located on the borders of Ukraine and have seized some millions of Most of them are women and children who have fled After Russia invaded Ukraine In late February, causing the largest refugee crisis in Europe Since World War II.
Biden is using four days in Europe to highlight the issues she is promoting at home, including support for US service members, education and child welfare.
The centerpiece of the first lady’s trip comes on Sunday – Mother’s Day – when a mother of three meets displaced Ukrainians who have sought asylum across the border in Slovakia.
Michael Larosa, a spokesman for the first lady, said Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden, had been planning to accompany her mother to Europe, but backed out after learning Thursday that she had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Larosa said Ashley Biden’s test was negative.
“I know we may not share a language, but I hope I can convey, in much larger ways than words, that their resilience inspires me, that they have not been forgotten, and that all Americans stand with them,” Biden said earlier this week.
During the trip, the first lady will also meet with humanitarian aid workers, educators, government officials and US embassy staff, the White House said.
Nearly 6 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled their country since the Russian invasion, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Many settled in neighboring countries, such as Romania and Slovakia, or went 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 always cared about 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 famine refugees In the Dadaab camp in Kenya. In 2017, she Refugees visited in Chios, Greeceas part of the work of the relief organization Save The Children, which she served on its board of directors.
Some refugee advocates said Biden’s trip would send a message that the United States takes seriously its humanitarian commitment to the Ukrainian people.
“Every First Lady has a far-reaching platform to raise awareness and this journey will be an important tool for mobilizing additional support for those forced to flee their homeland,” said Krish Omara Vinarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. She was previously Policy Director for First Lady Michelle Obama.
Biden’s visit comes on the heels of other representatives of the US government visiting Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
President Biden visited Ukrainian refugees during a layover in Poland in March. This is his closest to Ukraine and the White House says there are no plans for him to visit Kyiv.
On Saturday in Bucharest, Biden was planning to brief him on the humanitarian effort, meet Romania’s First Lady Carmen Iohannis and tour a school attended by Ukrainian refugee students before they leave for Slovakia. The first lady is a professor of English at the 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. You will also travel to the Slovak-Ukraine border crossing at Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia.
The White House declined to comment on whether it 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 showed her support for the Ukrainian people in many ways. She wore a sunflower – Ukraine’s national flower – on her mask and head covering and traveled to a hospital in Tennessee to visit Ukrainian children who had been transferred there for cancer treatment..
She also had Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana MarkarovaSit with her during President Biden’s State of the Union address in March.
The First Lady’s first solo foreign trip took her to Tokyo last year To represent the United States at the opening of the Olympic Games.
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