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WORLD | 20-02-2023 16:04

Air raid sirens howl on Biden's 'unprecedented' Kyiv visit

Days before the first anniversary of Russia's invasion on February 24, 2022, Biden surprised the world, making his first visit to the war-torn country to pledge new arms deliveries and reiterate Washington's "unwavering" support.

Air raid sirens howled as US President Joe Biden walked alongside Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky during a historic visit to war-time Kyiv on Monday.

Days before the first anniversary of Russia's invasion on February 24, 2022, Biden surprised the world, making his first visit to the war-torn country to pledge new arms deliveries and reiterate Washington's "unwavering" support.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said: "This is a historic visit, unprecedented in modern times, to have the President of the United States visit the capital of a country at war where the United States military does not control the critical infrastructure."

Both the 80-year-old US leader and the 45-year president of Ukraine appeared unbothered by the sirens as they walked out of St Michael's gold-domed cathedral, a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, on a crisp winter day with a clear blue sky.

From behind a police cordon, Kyiv residents spotted Biden outside the monastery and the news of his visit spread like wildfire.

"This is a good signal for the Ukrainian people, for the Ukrainian victory," Vladyslav Denysenko, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, told AFP.

"The US president cannot visit a country that will not win the war." 

Neither Biden's plainclothes security detail nor the armed Ukrainian soldiers wearing camouflage fatigues and helmets showed any sign of concern during the air raid sirens.

For Kyiv, the air raid warnings have become a near daily occurrence since Russia in October started systematically targeting Ukraine's energy infrastructure from the air, unleashing barrages of missiles and drones.

 

'Great friend of Ukraine'

From the monastery Biden, who wore a dark coat and black sunglasses, and Zelensky, in his trademark green fatigues, walked to the Wall of Remembrance, a monument to Ukraine's fallen defenders. 

Hundreds of photos have been added to the blue-painted wall since 2014, when conflict first broke out between Kyiv's forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

Accompanied by a ceremonial drum roll, Ukrainian soldiers laid two wreaths at the foot of the memorial, one with a blue and yellow ribbon symbolising the Ukrainian flag, the other with the stars and stripes of the United States flag. 

The presidents then observed a moment of silence before parting ways after a warm embrace.

Early on Monday, the roads near Kyiv's central Maidan Square and St Michael's monastery were closed to traffic giving advance warning of the US leader's surprise visit which would last nearly six hours.

Shortly after his arrival, Zelensky welcomed Biden at his official residence where they held a joint press conference that lasted around 20 minutes. 

As news of the visit spread, some Ukrainian citizens got creative, posting photoshopped images of Biden standing in front of Kyiv supermarkets and cafes or playing chess in a local park.

On the streets of Kyiv, locals were upbeat about the US leader's visit.  

Olga Bisyk, 34, who works for a German charity organisation, said Biden is a "great friend of Ukraine". 

"This is such moral support, it empowers our people to fight, live and finally win," she added.

by Emmanuel Peuchot/AFP

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