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First Lady Jill Biden visits Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

First Lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to Ukraine this morning. She's been in Eastern Europe on a visit to Romania and Slovakia, countries taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow is traveling with the first lady, and he joins us now. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Scott, I understand Mrs. Biden met with Ukraine's first lady. Tell us more about that meeting.

DETROW: Yeah. Olena Zelenska had been in hiding since the war began. She had not been seen in public. Biden pulled up to a school in Uzhhorod, and Zelenska stepped out of a black SUV that was guarded by a Ukrainian soldier. Jill Biden handed her flowers. They hugged, and then they went inside to talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JILL BIDEN: I wanted to come on Mother's Day. I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop, and this war has been brutal, and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.

DETROW: Biden had been visiting a border crossing nearby. And this part of the trip certainly was not announced ahead of time. But after the visit to that border crossing end, Biden's motorcade drove into Ukraine and into Uzhhorod. She spent about two hours on the ground in Ukraine total.

RASCOE: And so what's the significance of the first lady going to Ukraine? President Biden still hasn't visited, but there have been a lot of high-profile visits lately, right?

DETROW: Yeah. This is part of a two-day trip that was designed as a high-profile show of support for Ukraine. Going into Ukraine, meeting with Zelenska certainly sends that signal. You're right. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have all traveled to Kyiv in recent weeks. President Biden, even though he has not gone to Ukraine, visited Poland in late March. And this comes at a time where the U.S. is steadily increasing its financial support for Ukraine and its military support for Ukraine, including delivering higher-powered weapons at this point. So on top of that, this was designed to show just how much the U.S. is backing Ukraine in this war against Russia.

RASCOE: You know, I mentioned that this came in the middle of this trip you've been on with the first lady to neighboring countries, Romania and Slovakia. What else has the first lady been doing on this trip?

DETROW: Yeah. And as a reminder, these are two NATO allies who border Ukraine that have really taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees and been staging grounds as NATO provides military support to Ukraine. So Biden was showing support for those countries, meeting with officials from there. But, you know, she's an educator. I think most people know that she kept her job as community college professor. That's a topic she talks a lot about. And repeatedly throughout this trip, she has visited schools that have taken in Ukrainian refugee students to talk to the students, to talk to the teachers. And over and over again, she has made the point that these are kids who need long-term support, not just education right now, but, you know, psychological support and mental health support to start dealing with the way that their lives have been displaced and some of the violence that they've seen in their home country.

RASCOE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow, thank you so much.

DETROW: Thank you, Ayesha.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLDPLAY SONG, "HIGH SPEED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.