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KYIV, Ukraine — Like a lot of Ukrainians, Oleksandr Reshetkov was surprised and excited to learn that US President Joe Biden had made a surprise visit to Kyiv at about 8 a.m. this morning — even if the visit caused Reshetkov to be late to work.
“This is really a super historical moment in Ukrainian history, especially during this time,” the 24-year-old said.
Tight security closed roads in parts of the capital city and caused traffic jams, delaying Reshetkov’s commute as Biden met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The trip was a highly symbolic show of support and solidarity with Ukraine, coming just four days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country.
“This is a great signal to our partners and Western society that Ukraine is still on the agenda and on the top of the agenda,” said Reshetkov, founder of the Ukrainian youth organization Aware Zone.
The visit was kept secret, only becoming public at around noon when photos and videos appeared online showing Biden and Zelenskyy exiting St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery as air raid sirens blared across the city.
Amid a small crowd of security personnel, press, and onlookers, the two leaders made their way to the Wall of Remembrance outside of the monastery to pay tribute to Ukrainian troops killed in battle with Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
During his brief visit, Biden announced a nearly $500 million military aid package for Ukraine that includes artillery and anti-tank ammunition, anti-armor systems, tactical vehicles, air surveillance radars, and more. The supplies are vital for helping Ukrainian troops attempting to retake territory captured by Russian forces and for protecting cities and towns from frequent missile and drone attacks. Biden also declared that the US would impose a new round of sanctions later this week against powerful Russian “elites” and companies supporting Moscow’s war efforts.
“When [Russian President Vladimir] Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong,” Biden said, according to a White House statement.
Amid concerns that aid for Ukraine could diminish as the war drags on, the US president also told Zelenskyy that Washington remains committed to standing by its side.
“Over the last year, the United States has built a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific to help defend Ukraine with unprecedented military, economic, and humanitarian support — and that support will endure,” Biden said.
The military aid package announced on Monday marked the latest addition to more than $29 billion in security assistance already provided to Ukraine since last February. Experts and officials say that such support has been vital for Ukraine.
“Without these Western weapons, Ukraine could not have liberated the territories it has liberated,” said Lesia Bidochko, a Ukrainian political scientist and associate professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, in a phone interview after Biden’s visit.
However, Bidochko also criticized Western countries for taking too much time when deciding whether to provide certain weapons systems to Ukraine. She noted particularly the hesitancy that stalled decisions by the US and European governments to provide tanks like the M1 Abrams and the Leopard 2 to Ukraine.
“If we had these Leopard tanks half a year ago, we would not have lost so many civilians and soldiers in Ukraine,” Bidochko said.
Since last year, Congress has approved more than $113 billion in various kinds of aid, including military, for Ukraine, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a DC-based nonpartisan NGO. That aid has made the US the single largest supporter of Ukraine.
There was no immediate public response from the Kremlin to Biden’s surprise visit, but Moscow has repeatedly accused the US and European countries of using Ukraine as a proxy state to undermine and destroy Russia and claimed that their support for Ukraine has prolonged the conflict.
Mariia Arson, a 24-year-old student who followed the news of Biden’s visit from her home in Kyiv, had a mixed reaction to the day’s events. “It was bound to happen sooner or later with all the support we get from the USA and how strongly the American government supports Ukraine,” Arson said.
While Arson is grateful for the aid, she is also worried about Ukraine becoming a pawn for Washington’s foreign policy objectives.
“I want that [aid], but I also don’t want to become — as Russian propaganda now claims we are — American puppets, which we are not.”
Later in the day, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced that Washington had notified Moscow about the trip before Biden’s arrival to avoid escalating tensions with Russia. Sullivan declined to state how Russia responded, citing “the sensitive nature of those communications.”
The president reportedly left Kyiv mid-afternoon, with the White House saying that Biden was scheduled to be in Poland on Tuesday.