Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is traveling to the United States, where he will meet with President Joe Biden and visit Congress on Wednesday.
It will be Zelenskiy’s first known foreign trip since Russia’s invasion began on February 24.
Zelenskiy said he was going to Washington for talks with Biden to bolster “Ukraine’s resilience and defense capability” and to address the US Congress.
During the visit, Biden will announce a nearly $2 billion military aid package for Ukraine that will include a Patriot missile battery to help it defend itself against Russian missile salvos, a senior US official said.
Zelensky’s visit, which was arranged in secret until details emerged Tuesday night, was expected to last several hours.
He will hold talks with Biden and top national security aides at the White House, take part in a joint press conference with Biden, and then travel to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that Biden invited Zelensky to Washington “to highlight the United States’ continued commitment to Ukraine.”
“The visit will highlight the unwavering commitment of the United States to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian and military assistance,” she said.
Zelenskiy’s trip comes 300 days after Russia invaded Ukraine with the goal of capturing Kyiv in a few days. That goal quickly fizzled out as the force of Ukraine’s reaction, backed by billions of weapons from the United States and its allies, made the Ukrainians unexpectedly powerful adversaries.
According to the US official, Biden’s message to Zelensky will express determination and conviction.
Biden will come face to face with a man he has spoken to regularly over the past 10 months but hasn’t met in person since the war began.
With Biden’s strong support, the West rallied around Ukraine and sought to isolate Russia without getting into direct conflict with it.
Biden will not use the talks to push Zelensky to the negotiating table with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the US official said.
The Biden administration has provided about $20 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including artillery munitions, as well as munitions for NASAMS air defense systems and highly mobile artillery rocket systems (HIMARS).
Zelensky has repeatedly called on the West to provide more weapons, including air defense systems, after Russian drones hit energy targets in the third strike on energy facilities in six days.
Russia has warned that US-supplied equipment to Ukraine would be a legitimate target for Russian strikes.
Zelenskiy had previously made a surprise trip to the eastern frontline town of Bakhmut, his office said, highlighting Russia’s stuttering but persistent attempts to seize it.
In a late-night video message, Zelenskiy described the visit as a trip to the “Bakhmut fortress” in Donetsk, which Russia claimed in September. Most countries dismiss Russia’s claims as illegal occupation.
Dressed in a khaki combat uniform, Zelenskiy handed out medals to soldiers in a dilapidated industrial complex to applause, according to a video released by his agency.
On the contrary, Putin, from the comfort of the Kremlin, presented medals to Russian-appointed leaders of four regions of Ukraine that Russia is said to have annexed after invading a neighboring country.
Video footage published by Ukrinform TV, part of the Ukrainian state news agency, shows soldiers in Bakhmut handing Zelensky a Ukrainian flag with their signatures on it.
“We will pass it on from the guys to the US Congress and the President,” Zelensky said in the video. “We are grateful for the support. But this is not enough,” he added.
He urged the troops to maintain morale as the battle for Bakhmut, which has become a symbol of the brutality of the war, is now in its fifth month.
“The East is holding on because Bakhmut is fighting. In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is being defended here for all of us,” Zelensky wrote in the Telegram messenger.
Call for help
The US Senate has introduced a public funding bill that includes $44.9 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine and NATO allies. The money will be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as for replenishing American equipment sent to Ukraine.
The World Bank on Tuesday said it had approved an additional $610 million financing package for Ukraine to meet urgent relief and recovery needs.
Kyiv says it needs Western help to bolster its air defenses, as Russian strikes have repeatedly cut off electricity and water supplies in sub-zero winter temperatures.
Ukrainian officials say Russian rockets and bombings are aimed at breaking the will of civilians.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukrainians should prepare for more Russian attacks on energy infrastructure because Russia wants them to spend Christmas and New Year in the dark.