Jill Biden to meet Ukrainian refugees in Romania, Slovakia


WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden will spend Mother’s Day meeting with Ukrainian mothers and children who fled for their lives after Russian President Vladimir Putin began its invasion in Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The May 8 meeting will take place in Slovakia, one of two eastern European countries the first lady plans to visit during a five-day trip that starts Thursday. She also will be stopping in Romania.

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

Romania and Slovakia share borders with Ukraine, which has spent the past two months fighting off Russia’s military invasion. Romania and Slovakia also are NATO members.

Nearly 5.5 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Many have resettled in neighboring countries or relocated elsewhere in Europe.

“This is a staggering amount of people that have had to leave their homes, their possessions and, in some cases, families behind,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Shabia Mantoo.

Throughout the trip, Jill 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 first lady will also travel to Kosice and Vysne Nemecke in Slovakia to meet with refugees, humanitarian aid workers and local Slovakians who are supporting Ukrainian families who have sought refuge in Slovakia.

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

The trip will be the first lady’s second time overseas 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 and comes as many push the U.S. to do more for their refugees, especially after President Biden pledged settle 100,000 Ukrainians by allowing them into the states.

So far, however, recent numbers show only a small fraction of that amount has been relocated: 125 is April and only a dozen in March.

“I think part of this is the fact that we had to rapidly evacuate and move our resettle infrastructure that was based in Kyiv,” National Immigration Forum Spokesman, Danilo Zak, said on “Rush Hour” Friday.

With the numbers falling greatly short of the goal, on Friday the National Immigration Forum called for the resettlement system to be more streamlined and for refugee eligibility and benefits to be expanded.

“Our refugee resettlement structure, in general, is incredibly sluggish, incredibly slow and unable to respond to these emergency crisis in a timely manner,” Zak said.

This weekend the group hopes the first lady’s first visit to Europe brings progress in the effort to assist Ukrainians in need.

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

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