Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made his first known foreign trip since Russia invaded Ukraine more than 300 days ago, travelling to the US on a high-stakes visit to secure support for his war effort well into next year.
The Ukrainian president was filmed travelling with cars outside Przemyśl railway station in Poland.
He later flew to Washington DC, where he was greeted at the White House on Wednesday afternoon by Joe Biden.
Wearing his trademark olive green pants and sweater, Zelenskiy met the US president and his wife on the lawn.
Before the two leaders went in for talks, Biden told Zelenskiy that “it’s an honour to be by your side” and pledged continued financial, military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
“Thank you, first of all,” Zelenskiy told the US president. “It’s a great honour to be here.”
The two leaders will participate in a joint news conference and then go to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the US Senate and House of Representatives.
While in the air, Zelenskiy tweeted that he planned to strengthen the country’s “resilience and defence capabilities”.
“Next year, we must return the Ukrainian flag and freedom to our entire land, to all our people,” he wrote.
US lawmakers are due to vote on a year-end spending package that includes about $45bn (£37bn) in emergency assistance to Ukraine. The latest tranche of funding would be the biggest US infusion of assistance yet to Ukraine, above even Biden’s $37bn (£30bn) emergency request.
The White House earlier announced that it intends to send advanced Patriot missile batteries to Ukraine, which it said would be vital to stop Russia’s “barbaric” rocket attacks on critical infrastructure, as well as $1bn (£828m) in additional defence assistance.
A White House statement announcing the visit said the trip would “underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian and military assistance”.
In a letter inviting Zelenskiy to address the joint meeting of Congress, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, described the fight for Ukraine as a fight for democracy.
“In the face of Putin’s horrific atrocities, Ukrainian freedom fighters have inspired the world with an iron will and an unbreakable spirit … Your courageous, patriotic, indefatigable leadership has rallied not only your people, but the world, to join the frontlines of the fight for freedom,” she wrote.
After Moscow sent tanks and troops into Ukraine in late February, Zelenskiy sought to reassure citizens that he would stay in the country as a show of strength and determination, despite threats to his life and family.
With Ukraine’s military now largely holding Russian forces back, the international trip shows the president feels confident enough in the security situation to leave.
Ukraine’s largest single military donor by far is also at a critical juncture. Democrats are likely to lose their majority in the US House of Representatives next month, meaning Zelenskiy and his White House backers are eager to make a public show of bipartisan support. Some Republicans have recently questioned the price of supporting the war.
Kyiv’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the visit was “extremely significant”. He added: “This finally puts an end to the attempts by the Russian side … to prove an allegedly growing cooling in our bilateral relations. This, of course, is not even close. The United States unequivocally supports Ukraine.”
In a call with reporters, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned that continued western arms supplies to Ukraine would lead to a “deepening” of the conflict.
“The supply of weapons continues and the range of supplied weapons is expanding. All of this, of course, leads to an aggravation of the conflict,” he said. “This does not bode well for Ukraine.”
Source: The Guardian