Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has often astonished the world with his trips to the battlefield but his visit to Washington to press for military aid has delivered the biggest surprise of the 10 months since Russia invaded his country.
“On my way to the United States to strengthen resilience and defence capabilities of Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said on his Twitter account early on Wednesday.
He is due to meet President Joe Biden and visit Congress and to plead for more weaponry to resist Russia’s relentless attacks on energy targets that have left millions of Ukrainians without heat and light in the midst of the Ukrainian winter.
President since 2019, Zelenskiy has made it a point of his leadership to stay in his battered country, close to the people and soldiers fighting in a war that Ukraine and its allies call an unprovoked Russian aggression.
“The fight is here,” Zelenskiy said in response to a U.S. offer to evacuate him from Kyiv when the war broke out, the Ukrainian embassy in Britain said at the time.
Russia calls its invasion in Ukraine a “special military operation” to denazify and demilitarise its neighbour.
Since its forces rolled across the border, Zelenskiy has since addressed tens of parliaments, institutions, non-profit organisations via video links and has held countless calls with world leaders but has not made any known foreign trip since attending a Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19.
His wife, Olena Zelenska, travelled to Washington in July to address Congress and has made several other international trips pleading for Ukraine, as have his aides and ministers.
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy had made a surprise visit to the eastern front-line city of Bakhmut, a site of some of the fiercest fighting in the war, his office said, where, dressed in trademark combat khaki, he handed out medals to soldiers.
In contrast, his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, has spent much of his time inside the halls of the Kremlin.
On Tuesday in the Kremlin, Putin awarded medals to the Russian-appointed leaders of four regions of Ukraine that Russia has claimed to have annexed since invading its neighbour, which Kyiv and its allies call an illegal grab of land.
Zelenskiy has vowed to liberate his country by whatever means.
On Tuesday, he reiterated that.
“We will do everything possible and impossible, expected and unexpected, so that our heroes have everything they need to win,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. “For the results that all Ukrainians expect.”