Jill Biden fought back tears on Saturday as she heard heartbreaking stories from Ukrainian refugees about fleeing their homeland and she warned the humanitarian crisis could get worse.
Among the stories the first lady heard during her visit to a public school in Romania, which has taken in refugees, was one from seven-year-old Mila of Kyiv, who told Biden: ‘I want to return to my father.’
The 90-minute visit was filled with joy in addition to the sorrow. In addition to hearing the anguishing stories, Biden also laughed with the kids during their art projects, handed out presidential M&Ms, and gave hugs.
But she appeared anguished at times when she sat down with a group of Ukrainian women who described the trauma of trying to rebuild their lives in a new country.
Jill Biden fought back tears at times as she heard from Ukrainian refugees about fleeing their homeland when she met with mothers at a school in Bucharest
Jill Biden listened to stories from Ukrainian mothers and praised them: ‘I think you’re amazingly strong and resilient,’ Biden said
During her visit to a Romania public school that has taken in Ukrainian refugees, Biden watched young students work on art projects
Jill Biden met and heard from seven-year-old Mila of Kyiv, who told the first lady: ‘I want to return to my father.’
During her 90 minute visit to the school, Jill Biden offered hugs and posed for selfies
Anastasia Konovalvoa, a Ukrainian teacher who fled in March to Romania, told the first lady her only thoughts were saving her child.
‘I crossed the border with my three-year-old son and everything I was thinking about was how to save my child from a city that was bombed,’ she said. ‘Thank god the Romanian people were here.’
Biden told her: ‘We stand with you. I hope you know that.’
She praised the women for being strong.
‘I think mothers will do anything for their children … I think you’re amazingly strong and resilient,’ Biden said. ‘It’s just amazing that the Romanian people have taken you into their homes and into their hearts.’
The first lady appeared on the verge of tears as she listened to the refugees’ stories.
Almost 6 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, according to the United Nations. Nearly 7,000 are entering Romania a day with roughly 900,000 total having come to Romania thus far, though many have continued on to other countries.
‘Wasn’t it heartbreaking?,’ Biden told reporters traveling with her of the visit. ‘The little girl that said her wish was to be with her daddy, and then another said my wish is to go home, and then you can see it those children really have suffered.
She said she was worried the humanitarian crisis, which is being called the worst since World War II, will continue to grow.
‘We wake up every morning and think ‘this has to end,’ but it still keeps going on and on,’ she said.
She described her visit to the Scoala Gimnaziala Uruguay in Bucharest as ‘amazing’ and ’emotional.’
She visited the school, which is hosting two classrooms of refugees aged 5-15 years, with Romanian first lady Camen Iohannis.
Support at the school is being provided by the Romanian government, UNHCR, UNICEF and Save the Children.
‘I’m very grateful that you took the time and made the effort to visit us,’ Iohannis told her. ‘Sticking together, being united is very important to us.’
Jill Biden gives h Ukrainian teacher Anastasia Konovalova flowers after hearing her story
Jill Biden posed for selfies during her school visit
‘We stand with you. I hope you know that,’ Jill Biden told refugees
Two Ukrainian refugee children work on their art projects
Jill Biden is on a four-day trip to Europe to observe the humantarian crisis
The two women arrived holding hands. Earlier they had a private fish lunch, which was made by Iohannis herself.
The two have much in common: Iohannis kept her job as an English teacher when her husband took office – just like Biden kept hers teaching at a northern Virginia community college when Joe Biden was elected.
During her school visit, Biden dispensed with hugs and posed for selfies. She handed flowers to the Ukrainian mothers ahead of Mother’s Day.
And she gave ‘Heidi Junior’ chocolate bars and Air Force One M&Ms with President Biden’s signature to the children.
In addition to hearing their stories, she asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up.
She also watched them do arts and crafts projects – the children were tracing their hands and cutting them out on paper printed with Ukrainian and Romanian flags. They wrote messages of hope on paper butterflies.
She and Iohannis also were treated to a performance: students sang the Romanian national anthem and then a Ukrainian military march song.
Biden is visiting Romania and Slovakia this weekend to meet with refugees and learn about the humanitarian aide being provided to them. The U.S has provided more than $1.1 billion in humantarian aid to help the refugee crisis.
In a briefing with UN officials, Biden, a teacher, asked about the mental health services and schooling available to children.
She was told they need more counselors and need to continue to train teachers to be able to assist students with trauma.
She tied her trip to Mother’s Day weekend with the focus being on the the Ukrainian families who have suffered since Vladimir Putin invaded their country.
Her daughter Ashley, was scheduled to travel with her but dropped out of the trip after a close contact with a person who tested positive for covid. Ashley has tested negative.
Jill Biden and Romania first lady Carmen Iohannis heard from Ukrainian teachers and refugees
The students show their art work to Jill Biden and Carmen Iohannis
The two first ladies were treated to performances of the Romanian national anthem and a Ukrainian military march song
Jill Biden and Carmen Iohannis, first lady of Romania, have much in common: both are English teachers who kept their jobs after their husbands were elected
On Mother’s Day, Biden will be on the Slovakia-Ukraine border, meeting with Ukrainian mothers and children who fled the fighting.
The four-day trip, where she is also meeting with U.S. troops stationed in the area, is the most high-profile one to date taking by the first lady.
It is her second solo overseas trip. Last summer she went to Tokyo to cheer on U.S. athletes at the Olympic Summer Games.