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- Zelenskyy’s historic, risky 10-hour visit to Washington was months in the making.
- Pelosi held discussions on the trip with the top Ukrainian lawmaker as far back as October, AP reported.
- Biden formally invited Zelenskyy on Dec. 14, but the visit wasn’t publicly announced until Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Wednesday visit to the US seemed to come out of nowhere when it was reported on Tuesday, but the trip was actually months in the making.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed the possibility of Zelenskyy visiting the US to give an address to Congress with Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, during an October summit in Zagreb, Croatia, per the Associated Press reported, which also reported that Biden administration officials held similar discussions with Ukraine in recent months.
The Ukrainian leader and President Joe Biden also discussed the potential for a trip to Washington on December 11, and the White House formally invited him on December 14, the report said, citing an aide to Pelosi, a US official, and a senior administration official.
Zelenskyy’s journey to the US, which posed significant security risks, began on Wednesday morning when he crossed from Ukraine into Poland, according to Poland’s private broadcaster TVN24. The Ukrainian president’s first stop was at a train station in Przemysl, Poland, a border town that’s been a vital transit hub for many Ukrainians fleeing the war. He was then joined by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, and transported to an airport in Rzeszów, Poland, in a US Embassy vehicle, the Associated Press said, before flying to Joint Base Andrews on a US Air Force jet.
Zelenskyy received protection from the Secret Service while in the US.
“From the moment he lands and walks down those stairs of his plane, he will have a Secret Service security detail,” a US official told ABC News. “He will have that detail until he gets on the plane to leave.”
Ukrainian officials have said that Zelenskyy has survived a number of assassination attempts since Russia launched the unprovoked invasion in late February.
Generally, details on the visits of world leaders are made public days or even weeks in advance. But the stakes are much higher for Zelenskyy, as he leads his country through a war against a ruthless neighbor. Along these lines, the White House did not announce Zelenskyy’s visit until 1 am on Wednesday, though reports of the trip first emerged Tuesday.
The Ukrainian leader’s visit on Wednesday ultimately lasted just 10 hours and came just a day after he visited with troops on the frontline in the city of Bakhmut, which has seen fierce fighting. It also occurred on the 300th day of the war, and marked the first time Zelenskyy took an international trip since Russia invaded. The fact Zelenskyy chose the Washington as his first destination amid the war is a testament to the levels of support the US has provided to Ukraine — no other country has offered more aid.
The historic trip also occurred at a crucial moment in the war, on the heels of Ukraine making significant progress in a counteroffensive launched in recent months and as Russia mercilessly attacks crucial civilian infrastructure as the harsh winter sets in.
Zelenskyy met with Biden at the White House and delivered a speech before Congress, receiving a number of standing ovations as he thanked the US for its support thus far and touted the myriad ways in which Ukrainian forces have defied expectations in the war.
The US has provided Ukraine with billions in assistance, including crucial weapons. But a number of Republicans have expressed opposition to continued aid to Ukraine, citing economic concerns. The GOP is set take control of the House on January 3. By coming to Washington, Zelenskyy was able to make a direct appeal to lawmakers and Americans for more help.
“Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender,” Zelenskyy said, adding, “Your support is crucial, not just to stand in such fight but to get to the turning point to win on the battlefield.”
Zelenskyy said “more cannons and shells are needed” to boot out the Russian invaders. “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” Zelenskyy said. “You can speed up our victory.”