May 19. 2024. 1:08

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Biden’s surprise visit brings Kyiv to mysterious standstill

Central Kyiv came to a mysterious standstill on Monday morning, as police stopped traffic on major roads and sealed off the city’s railway station for a surprise visitor.

Yet inconvenience caused by US president Joe Biden’s arrival by train from Poland did not seem to annoy Kyiv residents, who during a year of all-out war with Russia have grown used to disruption from power cuts and air raid sirens – which wailed again as Mr Biden and host Volodymyr Zelenskiy laid a wreath at a memorial to fallen soldiers.

“If it helps us win the war and beat Russia I’ll wait here all week,” said Liudmyla Lashko, a pensioner standing at a chilly bus stop in the city centre as Monday morning rush-hour traffic backed up under a brilliant blue sky.

“If a best friend arrives unexpectedly you have to look after them,” she explained. “We need America to stick with us if we are to survive this war. So let President Biden come whenever he likes!”

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The US leader only stayed for a few hours, but promised a new $500 million (€444 million) package of military aid and more measures against individuals and firms that profit from a Russian invasion that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

“When [Vladimir] Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong,” Mr Biden said of his Russian counterpart.

“I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments,” he added.

“Later this week, we will announce additional sanctions against elites and companies that are trying to evade or backfill Russia’s war machine.”

Mr Zelenskiy hailed his guest’s visit as “historic, timely, brave” and said they discussed “the question of long-range weapons, and weapons that could be supplied which have not yet been supplied.”

However, there was no specific mention of the warplanes and so-called ATACMS missiles that Kyiv says its forces need to hold back and then expel Russia’s invasion force, amid heavy fighting in the partly occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.

“We did notify the Russians that President Biden would be travelling to Kyiv,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. “We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes.”

Over the last year, the United States has built a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific to help defend Ukraine with unprecedented military, economic, and humanitarian support – and that support will endure.

— President Biden (@POTUS) February 20, 2023

Some Moscow politicians and media framed this as the US seeking Kremlin permission for the visit, and Dmitry Medvedev, former president of Russia and now deputy head of its security council, said Mr Biden “received security guarantees in advance before finally travelling to Kyiv.”

“He promised lots of weapons and swore lifelong allegiance to the neo-Nazi regime,” he railed, repeating unfounded Russian claims that Ukraine is run by fascists.

“And of course, there were joint incantations about the victory that new weapons and a courageous people will bring,” he added, referring to Mr Biden as “the old man from across the ocean” and Mr Zelenskiy and his team as “a gang of drug addicts”.

On her way to work in a Kyiv school, teacher Iryna Vlasova said: “Western leaders visit Kyiv all time, despite the war. They’re welcome in Ukraine – not like Russians who come with tanks.”

[ Biden faces challenge as US support for Ukraine increasingly comes under siege ]

[ US warns China not to cross a line on support for Russia ]

[ Russia claims to have gained ground in Kharkiv as Kyiv accuses it of ‘nuclear terrorism’ ]