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President Biden's visit to Ukraine required careful, quiet planning

President Joe Biden's secret trip to Kyiv marked his first since the war began, and it took months of effort.
Posted at 5:11 AM, Feb 21, 2023

A year ago, President Joe Biden spoke to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by phone as Russia invaded. On Monday, the two stood side by side in the war-torn country's capital of Kyiv — a city Russia failed to overtake and a symbol of Ukraine's resistance.

It's a trip White House officials called a bold and unprecedented move but one that was logistically complicated.

The U.S. doesn't have a military presence in Ukraine and only a small embassy operation.

"It's a tough decision because nobody has a safety guaranteed in the town," said Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv's mayor.

The air raid sirens were heard in the city during the visit.

"I want to remind everybody, there's 150 buildings and 150 civilians also killed from Russia rockets and everything," Klitschko said. "During this time, we were alarmed."

National security officials say the trip was "meticulously" planned over months, involving only a handful of aides from both leaders and coordination with Ukraine.

Officials said President Joe Biden made the final decision just days before, having been briefed and satisfied the risk was manageable.

The trip was kept under wraps, but National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia was notified hours ahead of departure, for deconfliction purposes.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer says given the logistics, the trip was impressive.

"It was probably something that the Russians understood that there was a real risk to them of trying to do something," Pifer said. "Hosting a presidential visit is a big deal, and logistics are nightmarish. And how they pull this off with everything being held under wraps, I think was a real tribute to the organization of the visit."

But at the core, officials describe a president who wanted to stand with Zelenskky — a strong sign of American support.

"One year later, Kyiv stands, and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands," President Biden said. "The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you. We know that there will be very difficult days and weeks and years ahead, but Russia's aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin's war conquest is failing."