Saturday May 07, 2022

Jill Biden hears heartbreak of Ukrainian mothers and teachers now in Romania

Jill Biden hears heartbreak of Ukrainian mothers and teachers now in Romania

Jill Biden poses for a photo (top L), talks with students, hugs a woman during a visit to the Uruguay School in Bucharest Romania, on Saturday. AFP / AP

US First Lady Jill Biden on Saturday heard heartbreaking stories from Ukrainian women and children who fled Russia’s war and found safe haven across the border in Romania, and the American first lady praised the Romanian government and relief organisations for the range of humanitarian aid they are providing to refugees.

Jill Biden, who teaches English and writing at a community college in Virginia, is on a tour of Romania and Slovakia meeting US servicemen deployed in the countries, and refugees.

The wife of President Joe Biden was accompanied by Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis, who is also a teacher. The first ladies also met Ukrainian and Romanian children who were drawing their hand prints on paper printed in the colours of their countries' respective flags.

"I think mothers will do anything for their children," Jill Biden told the Ukrainian women. "I think you're amazingly strong and resilient."

Jill Biden hears heartbreak of Ukrainian mothers and teachers now in Romania Jill Biden (L) and Carmen Iohannis greet children during their visit to the Uruguay School in Bucharest. AP

Nearly 910,000 Ukrainians have fled to Romania since Russia launched its invasion, with charities, local authorities and government agencies working alongside thousands of volunteers to provide food, shelter and transportation.

While many have already journeyed further, about 80,000 remain in Romania, primarily women with young children.

Most of those Ukrainians have moved on to other countries, but many — mainly women and children — have remained as the fighting rages.

“We stand with you," Jill Biden told mothers of some of the students after visiting classrooms where kids ages 5 to 15 attend school.

Earlier, Jill Biden received a briefing at the US embassy on the relief effort. Her visit to Eastern Europe comes as President Joe Biden is pressing Congress to pass an additional $33 billion in security and economic assistance for Ukraine.

Jill Biden called the show of solidarity "amazing" but also "just the beginning.” She said it was inspiring for Romanians "to welcome all these refugees into their homes and offer them food and clothing and shelter and give them their hearts.” But she also cautioned that much more needs to be done by the US and allies to assist Ukraine.

"We’re all hopeful, right,” she told reporters. "We wake up every morning and think ‘this has to end’ but it still keeps going on and on.”

About 7,000 Ukrainians cross the border and arrive in Romania daily, said Pablo Zapata, the Romanian representative for the UN refugee agency.

Jill Biden hears heartbreak of Ukrainian mothers and teachers now in Romania Jill Biden (Centre left) poses for a photograph with a woman during her visit to the Uruguay School in Bucharest. AP

UN and other agencies and the Romanian government are providing refugees with a range of services, including food, shelter, education, health and mental health care, and counseling, among other services.

Jill Biden asked specifically about the provision of mental health services and whether summer school was available to help refugee students catch up on their education.

The first lady is on the second day of a four-day trip to Romania and Slovakia that is designed to showcase US support for Ukrainian refugees. Slovakia also shares a border with Ukraine. Biden was scheduled to spend Sunday, Mother's Day, there meeting with refugees and visiting a border village.

Jill Biden met with Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis over lunch at her private residence. Iohannis, who also accompanied Biden during the school visit, kept her job as an English teacher when her husband took office just like Biden kept hers teaching at a northern Virginia community college.

At her tour of the public school, Jill Biden had an exchange with one young Ukrainian girl told her through a translator, "I want to return to my father.” Jill Biden later told reporters the girl's words were "heartbreaking.”

At moments, Jill Biden appeared anguished as she listened to the stories from mothers who told her of their own difficult decisions to flee their homeland.

Jill Biden hears heartbreak of Ukrainian mothers and teachers now in Romania Jill Biden and Carmen Iohannis visit a classroom at the Uruguay School in Bucharest. AFP

Svitlana Gollyak told Jill Biden that her young daughter had difficulty adapting in the early days of the war but now seems to be turning the corner after arriving in Romania from Kharkiv, Ukraine.

"I think mothers will do anything for their children,” Jill Biden told Gollyak and the other mothers, adding that they were "amazingly strong and resilient.”

“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," Konovalova told Jill Biden, herself a teacher.
"Thank God the Romanian people were here. I think even the Romanians didn't expect that they could be so wonderful, because you don't expect that from people," Konovalova said.

AP / AFP

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