The Biden Visit to Kyiv: A Risky and Secretive Mission
President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday was the first time in modern history that a U.S. leader visited a warzone outside the aegis of the U.S. military. The trip required a security, operational, and logistical effort from professionals across the U.S. government to take what was an inherently risky undertaking and make it a manageable risk.
The president had been itching since last year to join the parade of other Western officials who have visited Kyiv to pledge support standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the capital. Biden left the White House in the early hours of Sunday morning, secreted aboard an Air Force C-32, a modified Boeing 757 normally used for domestic trips to smaller airports. After a refueling stop in Germany, he boarded a train for the roughly 10-hour overnight trip to Kyiv.
U.S. officials had given Moscow notice of Biden’s trip for “deconfliction purposes,” according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. As Biden was on the ground in Ukraine, flights transporting military equipment and other goods were continuing unabated to Rzeszow from Western cities. The U.S. military does not have a presence in Ukraine other than a small detachment of Marines guarding the embassy in Kyiv, making Biden’s visit more complicated than visits by prior U.S. leaders to war zones.
The sealing off of Kyiv roads that are usually humming with traffic brought an eerie calm to the center of the capital. Biden and Zelenskyy walked from their motorcade to the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral under skies as blue as the outer walls of the cathedral itself. Afterwards, they visited the wall of remembrance honoring Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2014, the year Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and Russian-backed fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine.
The visit was a major display of solidarity with Ukraine and the people of Kyiv. People of the city welcomed Biden and expressed their appreciation for him taking the risk to visit their war-torn city. “He is like an example of a president who is not afraid to show up in Ukraine and to support us,” said Kyiv resident Myroslava Renova, 23.
Biden ultimately departed Ukraine for Poland aboard a well-appointed, wood-paneled train car with tightly drawn curtains, a dining table and a leather sofa. The president’s risky and secretive mission to Ukraine was a success, and his presence in the capital will not soon forgotten.