KYIV, Ukraine — After nearly a year of war, Kyiv is used to the surprising.
On Monday the shock was a welcome one, with Ukrainians hailing President Joe Biden’s visit as a historic second that carried enormous symbolism forward of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Earlier than information of Biden’s secret journey filtered out, residents of the Ukrainian capital reported closed roads and uncommon site visitors jams, stoking the social media rumor mill with options of a high-profile guest. Few anticipated to see the president of the United States strolling across the middle of city quickly after, an unannounced ambassador of hope that the Western alliance backing Kyiv’s protection in opposition to the Kremlin’s assaults can stay sturdy.
Evheniy Lazarenko, 30, advised NBC Information he was shocked given the risks concerned, which made Biden’s presence all of the extra appreciated.
“It offers a way that we’re not alone, we do have help, the most important a part of the world and best leaders are with us,” mentioned Lazarenko, a supervisor at an IT firm in Kyiv. He added that he was grateful to all People who’re “following the information and supporting Ukraine.”
Anna Myryasheva, a 24-year-old market researcher in Kyiv, mentioned the visit gave her “joy and hope.”
“It’s exceptional that worldwide companions are coming to see all the things with their very own eyes, regardless of the hazard. As an individual who lives in Kyiv, and expects heavy shelling quickly, I really feel nice right now,” she mentioned.
Their sentiments have been echoed by officers in Kyiv, who lauded Biden’s journey at a pivotal second in the warfare.
“Your visit is a particularly essential signal of help for all Ukrainians,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned on his Telegram channel.
The 2 leaders embraced earlier than heading out for a stroll punctuated by air raid sirens which might be all-too acquainted for town’s common occupants. Nonetheless, a 12 months in the past many from Washington to Warsaw feared that by now Kyiv is perhaps in the grip of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“One 12 months later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands,” Biden mentioned. “Democracy stands.”
He got here bearing information of extra army assist, too, asserting a variety of latest help for Ukraine in addition to extra sanctions on Russian corporations.
Andrii Yermak, head of Zelenskyy’s workplace, hailed the visit as historic, however added that it was additionally “strategic.”
“A whole lot of points are being resolved and these which have been pending can be expedited,” he mentioned in a Telegram publish. Yermak later shared an image of a plaque put in to mark Biden’s visit in the Stroll of the Courageous in Kyiv’s Structure Sq., which honors leaders who’ve supported Ukraine for the reason that invasion.
‘A shock is being ready’
Kyiv has had no scarcity of visiting overseas dignitaries in current months, together with a European Union chief, two British prime ministers, French President Emmanuel Macron and different senior U.S. officers.
However Biden’s visit is arguably probably the most important of all — a morale-boosting gesture after a grinding 12 months of warfare, simply as Russia launches a brand new push on the battlefield and some Western powers present indicators they could be tempted to nudge Kyiv towards a peace deal.
The president had been on account of embark on a scheduled journey to Europe to point out solidarity with Ukraine and its neighboring international locations, a lot of whom have lengthy raised fears about Russia’s militant imperialism.
However the five-hour cease in Kyiv was organized in the strictest secrecy.
The White Home had denied any plans for the president to visit Ukraine, a dangerous enterprise given the continuing battle — although officers later confirmed that Russia had been notified forward of time “for deconfliction functions.” Few others have been.
As a substitute the obvious presence of U.S. army plane in the world, movies exhibiting a motorcade driving via restricted streets and information of a visit canceled at the final minute by Ukraine’s overseas minister stoked theories about what is perhaps afoot.
Personal messaging teams and public-facing social media have been awash with excited hypothesis, however officers would solely trace at what was to return.
“A shock is being ready,” mentioned Deputy Overseas Minister Andriy Melnyk, urging residents perturbed by site visitors jams in the capital to be affected person when he appeared on a neighborhood information channel early Monday.
Biden arrived round 8am native time (1 a.m. ET) however the visit was not publicly confirmed till noon native time (5 a.m. ET).
Kremlin loyalists have been unimpressed.
Former President Dmitry Medvedev mentioned Biden had used his journey to vow “loads of weapons and [swear] allegiance to the neo-Nazi regime to the grave,” a reference to Putin’s baseless description of the Ukrainian authorities.
The Russian chief is because of make a closely-watched speech Tuesday to mark a 12 months for the reason that begin of his “particular army operation.”
Biden’s journey could have upstaged Putin and drawn ire in Moscow, however in Kyiv it was a trigger for expressions of joy — and memes.
Pictures that includes Biden added to photographs of on a regular basis life in Ukraine swiftly made their method throughout social media. One confirmed him consuming an ice cream, one other had him searching for groceries, commenting on the presently excessive value of eggs.
Some tweets merely requested that Biden comply with the U.S. promise to ship battle tanks with a dedication to supply fighter jets. Tanks are cool, one said, “however they do not fly.”
Biden’s visit is doubly important, approaching Feb. 20, when Ukraine remembers anti-government protesters killed in 2014, a bunch known as the Heavenly Hundred. These protests have been sparked by Moscow-backed chief Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to signal an settlement to forge nearer ties with Europe.
Quick ahead 9 years and Ukraine is a candidate to hitch the European Union, whereas the Kremlin’s designs on the nation seem more and more prone to stay annoyed.
As one analyst put it: “Biden made it to Kyiv earlier than Putin.”
Daryna Mayer reported from Kyiv, and Patrick Smith from London.
This text was initially printed on NBCNews.com