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Jill Biden hears heartbreak of Ukrainian moms now in Romania

About 7,000 Ukrainians cross the border and arrive in Romania daily, said Pablo Zapata, the country's representative for the U.N. refugee agency.
First lady Jill Biden
First lady Jill Biden walks into a classroom during her visit to the Uruguay School in Bucharest Romania with Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis on May 7, 2022.Crisitian Nistor / Pool via AP

BUCHAREST, Romania — 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 organizations for the range of humanitarian aid they are providing to refugees.

At a Romanian public school hosting refugee students, Biden saw firsthand the relief efforts to assist some of the 900,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Romania since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

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,” Biden told mothers of some of the students after visiting classrooms where kids ages 5 to 15 attend school.

Earlier, Biden received a briefing at the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.N. refugee agency.

U.N. 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.

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 U.S. 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.

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, Biden had an exchange with one young Ukrainian girl told her through a translator, “I want to return to my father.” Biden later told reporters the girl’s words were “heartbreaking.”

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

Svitlana Gollyak told 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,” Biden told Gollyak and the other mothers, adding that they were “amazingly strong and resilient.”