Dr. Biden writes about meeting Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska, mothers who fled home with children and border guards who serve in neighboring countries that welcome refugees
First Lady Jill Biden has written a heartfelt essay about her trip to Eastern Europe over the weekend, describing the grief, sorrow and fear she saw in the mothers she met in Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine who’ve been affected by Russia’s war.
“They wear brave faces, but their emotion is portrayed in the slope of their shoulders, the nervousness in their bodies,” Biden, 70, wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “Something is missing — laughter, a common language among women.”
Dr. Biden also addressed Russian President Vladimir Putin directly in the essay, calling on him to “end this senseless and brutal war.”
The first lady’s trip included a surprise stop inside Ukraine on Mother’s Day to meet Olena Zelenska, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s wife.
Zelenska “came out of hiding, leaving her own children, to visit with me and ask for help for the people of her country,” Biden, 70, wrote in the CNN op-ed. “She didn’t ask me for food or clothing or weapons. She asked me to help her get mental health care for all those suffering from the effects of Putin’s senseless and brutal war.”
Ukraine’s first lady — who hadn’t been seen in public since the war began in late February — spoke of the women and children who’ve been raped, shot and killed and of the countless Ukrainians who’ve lost their homes in the war with Russia, according to Dr. Biden’s essay.
“We wished each other Happy Mother’s Day. I told her I was in Ukraine to show Ukrainian mothers that we were standing with them, and I was carrying the hearts of the American people with me,” Biden wrote, adding that Zelenska responded by saying, “the Ukrainians are so grateful for the support of the American people.”
The pair met in Uzhhorod, a small city in western Ukraine near the Slovakian border, at a school that is currently housing individuals affected by the war.
While there, Dr. Biden spoke with a mother who shared stories of alleged Russian brutality. “When she and her family ventured out in search of food, Russian soldiers would shoot into the lines of people waiting for a piece of bread,” she wrote.
Russia has denied intentionally targeting civilians — but thousands have been reported dead.
The first lady also stopped in Romania and Slovakia over the weekend in support of U.S. military personnel and embassy workers stationed in those countries, as well as Ukrainian mothers and children who have been forced to flee their homes because of violence that’s affected their home.
“The Ukrainian mothers at the Romanian and Slovak schools I visited told me about the horrors of the bombs that fell night after night as they sought to find refuge during their journey westward,” Dr. Biden wrote. “Many had to live days without food and sunlight, harbored in basements underground.”
Dr. Biden wrote in her essay that she also heard from women who are grateful to the people of Romania and Slovakia, countries that combined have received more than a million refugees, according to United Nations figures.
More than 6 million Ukrainians have fled their country in Europe’s refugee crisis that began when Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
“The border guards told me stories of thousands of people with few belongings who crossed into Slovakia — a desperate sea of humanity, whose lives were forever changed on February 24, the date of Russia’s further invasion of an unjust war that began years ago,” Biden wrote.
“In the cold of February, many came without shoes, walking for miles upon miles. They were fleeing in fear, carrying one wish of being able to return home,” she continued. “One 11-year-old came by himself with a phone number to contact his family written on his hand.”
To end her essay, Dr. Biden, who teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College, quoted the poet Kahlil Gibran: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
“My hope is that this is true for the mothers I met. But that can only happen when this war ends,” Dr. Biden wrote. “Mr. Putin, please end this senseless and brutal war.”