Jill Biden: Resilience of Ukrainian refugees ‘inspires me’

First lady Jill Biden speaks at the unveiling of the Met Museum Costume Institute's exhibit "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion" on Monday, May 2, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden said she is heading to Romania and Slovakia later this week to visit with Ukrainian families who fled for their lives after Russia invaded their country in hopes of sending the message, despite language barriers, “that their resilience inspires me.”

The White House announced late Sunday that the first lady will spend Mother’s Day meeting Ukrainian refugees, most of whom are women and children.

The May 8 meeting will take place in Slovakia. Biden is scheduled to depart Washington late Thursday on a five-day trip that will also take her to Romania. Both countries share borders with Ukraine, which has spent the past two months fighting off Russia’s military invasion. Romania and Slovakia also are NATO members.

She discussed the trip Monday while touring a costume exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, saying she would spend the U.S. holiday dedicated to honoring mothers with Ukrainian families who have been displaced by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.

“As a mother myself, I can only imagine the grief families are feeling,” said Biden, a mother of three. “I know that we might not share a language, but I hope that I can convey, in ways so much greater than words, that their resilience inspires me, that they are not forgotten, and that all Americans stand with them still.”

The trip will mark Biden’s latest show of solidarity with Ukraine.

Nearly 5.5 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Many have resettled in neighboring countries or relocated elsewhere in Europe.

Throughout the trip, Biden will also meet with U.S. service members, U.S. Embassy personnel, humanitarian aid workers and educators, the White House said.

After arriving in Romania on Friday, she is scheduled to meet with U.S. service members at Mihail Kogalniceau Air Base, a U.S. military installation near the Black Sea.

The schedule then takes her to the Romanian capital of Bucharest on Saturday to meet with government officials, U.S. Embassy staff, humanitarian aid workers and educators who are helping teach displaced Ukrainian children. The first lady will travel to Slovakia to meet with staff at the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, the capital.

On May 8, Biden will travel to Kosice and Vysne Nemecke in Slovakia to meet with refugees, humanitarian aid workers and local Slovakians who are supporting Ukrainian families that have sought refuge in Slovakia.

She plans to meet with members of Slovakia’s government on May 9 before returning to the United States.

President Joe Biden visited with Ukrainian refugees during a stop in Poland in March.

The trip will be the first lady’s second overseas to represent the United States by herself, following her journey to Tokyo last year for the opening of the delayed 2020 Olympic Games. The trip also will mark her latest gesture of solidarity with Ukraine.Four days after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Biden appeared at a White House event wearing a face mask embroidered with a sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower.

She also invited Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, to sit with her during President Biden’s State of the Union address in March and had a sunflower sewn into the sleeve of the cobalt blue dress she wore for the occasion.

Jill Biden spoke Monday at the Met about fashion as a means of communication. She said she had the sunflower applique sewn onto the cuff of her dress because she knew the only thing that would be written about her for the president’s big speech was what she wore.

“And that night, sitting next to the Ukrainian ambassador, I knew that I was sending a message without saying a word, that Ukraine was in our hearts and that we stood with them.,” she said.