During a visit to Romania, Jill Biden heard heartbreaking stories of Ukrainian women and children who fled war in Russia and found refuge across the border.
At a Romanian public school hosting refugee students, Biden saw firsthand the relief efforts to help some of the 900,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Romania since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Most of these Ukrainians have left for other countries, but many – mostly women and children – have remained as the fighting rages on.
“We’re on your side,” Biden told some students’ mothers after visiting classrooms where children ages 5 to 15 attend school.
Earlier, Biden received a briefing at the US Embassy on the relief effort. His visit to Eastern Europe comes as President Joe Biden urges Congress to pass an additional $33 billion in security and economic aid for Ukraine.
Jill Biden called the show of solidarity “incredible” but also “this is just the beginning”. She said it was inspiring for Romanians “to welcome all these refugees into their homes and offer them food, clothes and shelter and give them their hearts.”
But she also warned that the United States and its allies must do much more to help Ukraine.
“We’re all hopeful, aren’t we,” she told reporters. “We make up every morning and think ‘this has to stop,’ but it just goes on and on.”
About 7,000 Ukrainians cross the border and arrive in Romania daily, said Pablo Zapata, the Romanian representative of the UN refugee agency.
The UN and other agencies as well as the Romanian government provide the refugees with a range of services, including food, shelter, education, health and mental health care and counselling, among other services.
Biden asked specific questions about the provision of mental health services and whether summer schools were available to help refugee students catch up on academics.
The first lady is on day two of a four-day trip to Romania and Slovakia designed to showcase American support for Ukrainian refugees. Slovakia also shares a border with Ukraine. Biden was to spend Mother’s Day Sunday there meeting refugees and visiting a border village.
Biden met Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis over lunch at his private residence. Iohannis, who also accompanied Biden on the school visit, retained his job as an English teacher when her husband took over, just as Biden retained his at a northern Virginia community college.
While visiting public school, Biden had an exchange with a young Ukrainian woman who told him through a translator, “I want to go back to my dad. Biden later told reporters that the girl’s words were “heartbreaking.”
At times, Biden appeared anguished as he listened to stories from mothers who told him of their own difficult decisions to flee their homeland.
Svitlana Gollyak told Biden that her young daughter struggled to adjust at the start of the war, but now appears to be moving on after arriving in Romania from Kharkiv, Ukraine.
“I think mothers will do anything for their children,” Biden told Gollyak and other mothers, adding that they were “surprisingly strong and resilient.”
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