Jill Biden Makes Surprise Visit to Ukraine and Greets Its First Lady on Mother's Day: 'This War Has to Stop'

Dr. Jill Biden also met with U.S. service men and women as well as refugees and humanitarian workers in neighboring countries

US First lady Jill Biden (L) offers flowers to Ukraine President wife Olena Zelenska, outside of School 6, a public school that has taken in displaced students in Uzhhorod on May 8, 2022, during an unannounced visit of Jill Biden to Ukraine on the sidelines of an official trip in nearby Slovakia. (Photo by Susan Walsh / POOL / AFP) (Photo by SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

First Lady Jill Biden made a surprise visit Sunday to Ukraine, where she met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's wife, Olena Zelenska, to show support for the country as its war with Russia rages on.

"I wanted to come on Mother's Day," Biden, 70, told Zelenska, according to the AP. "I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop and this war has been brutal and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine."

The two first ladies met in Uzhhorod, a small city in western Ukraine near the Slovakian border, at a school that is currently housing individuals affected by the war, CNN reported.

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Upon their arrival in the town, the two women embraced, and Biden gave Zelenska, 44, a bouquet of flowers before they went inside the school.

"First of all, I would like to thank you for a very courageous act," Zelenska said. "We understand what it takes for the U.S. first lady to come here during a war when military actions are taking place every day, where the air sirens are happening every day — even today," she said.

It's the first time the Ukrainian first lady has appeared in public since the war began Feb. 24, according to CNN.

"We all feel your support and we all feel the leadership of the U.S. President," Zelenska also said, "but we would like to note that Mother's Day is a very symbolic day for us because we also feel your love and support during such an important day."

Biden also visited Romania and Slovakia this weekend in support of U.S. military personnel and embassy personnel stationed in the European countries, as well as Ukrainian mothers and children who have been forced to flee their homes because of violence that's affected much of their country.

According to a White House press release, the First Lady started her visit on Friday at the Mihail Kogalniceau Airbase in Romania, where she met with United States military service members.

Later that evening, she traveled to Bucharest, Romania, where she visited the next day with members of the Romanian government, U.S. embassy staff, humanitarian aid workers and educators, who are working with displaced Ukrainian children to incorporate them into a stable and safe school environment.

After then traveling to Bratislava, Slovakia, to meet with U.S. embassy staff, Biden arrived in Kosice and Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia, on Sunday, where she spoke with refugees, humanitarian aid workers, and local Slovaks who are supporting refugee families who have fled to Slovakia as a result of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

On Monday, Biden is scheduled to meet with members of the Slovakian government before departing back home to the United States.

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First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden
Jill Biden. John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock

Biden's visit comes about as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but thousands of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. More than 5.5 million have fled the country as refugees — and half are children, according to the United Nations. Millions more have been displaced inside Ukraine.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, 44, called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin, 69, insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend."Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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