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First lady Jill Biden in Europe on solo trip to support Ukraine refugees, U.S. troops

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First lady Jill Biden in Europe on solo trip to support Ukraine refugees, U.S. troops
First lady Jill Biden walks through the White House Colonnade with Mexican First Lady Beatriz Gutierrez Muller on Thursday before a Cinco de Mayo Celebration in the Rose Garden. Later on Thursday, Biden departed for Europe. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

May 6 (UPI) -- First lady Jill Biden arrived in Romania on Friday as part of a multi-day trip to bring messages of support from President Joe Biden and meet with government leaders, Ukrainian refugees and aid workers.

The first lady is the latest member of Biden's administration to travel to the region as a result of Russia's war in Ukraine, which began more than two months ago. Officials say more than 5.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, headed for neighboring nations like Romania and Slovakia.

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The first lady arrived late Friday morning at Mihail Kogalniceau Airbase in southeastern Romania and met there with U.S. military service members. She was scheduled to travel on to Bucharest in the evening, the White House said.

The trip is Jill Biden's first official visit to Europe by herself and just her second anywhere without the president. She visited Tokyo last summer to represent the United States at the Summer Olympic Games in Japan.

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At her first stop in Mihail Kogalniceau, the first lady will met with U.S. and NATO military leadership, and was scheduled to help serve meals to U.S. service members and visit with them at the airbase. Later, she will participate in an event with "United Through Reading," an organization that virtually connects deployed U.S. troops with their families in the United States.

"On my way to Romania and Slovakia to spend Mother's Day with Ukrainian mothers and children who were forced to flee their homes because of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war," the first lady said in a tweet late Thursday. "I will also visit U.S. troops and express gratitude for the relief efforts of neighboring countries and aid workers."

Soldiers assigned to 2nd Cavalry Regiment prepare Strykers vehicles to deploy for Romania on February 8, as part of the U.S. reinforcement mission to support of NATO and partners against Russian aggression in Ukraine. President Joe Biden sent about 3,000 troops to Romania, Poland and Germany. File Photo by Cpl. Austin Riel/U.S. Army/UPI

President Biden sent hundreds of American troops to Romania, Poland and Germany in early February in a move to support NATO forces in the region and deter Moscow from staging an invasion in Ukraine. Moscow sent its forces across the border into eastern Ukraine about three weeks later.

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On Saturday, the first lady will meet with members of the Romanian government, U.S. Embassy staff, humanitarian aid workers and educators in Bucharest and help "incorporate a stable and safe school environment" for refugee children. Jill Biden has been an educator for decades.

Later Saturday, the first lady will travel to Slovakia to meet with U.S. Embassy staff in Bratislava. She will remain in Slovakia on Sunday, which will include the centerpiece of the first lady's visit.

In Kosice, Jill Biden will meet with Ukrainian refugees -- including mothers and children who were forced to leave their home country at an aid center and school. Sunday is Mother's Day in the United States.

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The White House says the first lady will also travel to a border crossing in Vysne Nemecke, near the Ukrainian border, where refugees are receiving basic humanitarian aid from Slovakian government workers before they're sent to processing centers and transit hubs.

Jill Biden's trip will conclude on Monday after she meets with members of Slovakia's government and returns to the United States. All told, the trip will span almost four days.

President Biden traveled to Eastern Europe in late March and met with refugees in Warsaw, Poland's capital. The trip prompted the president to declare that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power." Vice President Kamala Harris also visited Warsaw weeks earlier and pledged additional humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

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Although Jill Biden's trip is taking her very close to Ukraine, she will not cross over the border into the dangerous, battle-worn country. Only a small number of U.S. officials have so far traveled inside Ukraine since the start of the fighting, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led a delegation there last week. In Kyiv, she and other members of the American delegation met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Taking shelter in Ukraine

Lyubov Ivanovna Vlasenko, 70, (L) and her husband Gennady Ivanovich Sergeev, 74, eat lunch in the basement-turned bunker moments after Russian artillery landed approximately 800 meters away in the Pyatikhatki district, of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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