As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, millions of the country’s residents have fled their homes as refugees — making this year’s Mother’s Day especially difficult to celebrate. However, the two first ladies from the United States and Ukraine are trying to make the best of difficult circumstances. This photo of Jill Biden's meeting with Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska came at the perfect time, and it sends such a moving message.
“On this Mother’s Day, my heart is with you, First Lady Olena Zelenska, and all of the brave and resilient mothers of Ukraine,” Jill Biden captioned in her May 8 Instagram post, alongside a photo of herself and Zelenska sharing a heartfelt embrace. Biden can be seen holding a bundle of flowers, and although her face isn’t visible, it’s clear the two women are happy to see one another.
The first lady had made a public trip to Romania and Slovakia for the weekend to meet with Ukrainian refugees, but the May 8 trip across the border was unannounced, per the White House. Her motorcade crossed the Slovakia-Ukrainian border in the late afternoon on Mother’s Day, and arrived at a public school in Uzhhorod, which is now being repurposed as a temporary shelter for 163 displaced Ukrainian residents — including 47 children.
“I wanted to come in Mother’s Day. I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop,” Biden told reporters present at the visit. According to U.S. officials, Biden’s trip was intended to help displaced children cope with the trauma of war through the holiday, and the facility she visited was supported by the International Organization for Migration (OIM) as part of USAID. The two first ladies sat down with the displaced children to help them craft art projects for their mothers.
As of May 9, over 12 million people are believed to have fled their homes in Ukraine to escape war and violence amid Russia’s ongoing invasion. According to data from the United Nations (UN), more than 5.7 million people have fled to neighboring countries as refugees, while another 6.5 million have been displaced within the country. “This war has been brutal and the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine,” Biden added.
While the two first ladies have reportedly exchanged correspondences over the past few weeks, this is the first time Zelenska has made a public appearance since the Russian invasion officially began. The Ukrainian first lady has been in hiding, and spoke to Vogue in an April 8 interview about what it was like to live life under siege. “Our lives changed radically,” she told Vogue. “Ukrainians did not want to leave their homes. But so often they did not have homes left.”
Ukraine’s first lady expressed her gratitude for Biden’s visit to reporters present. “We understand what it takes for the U.S. first lady to come here during a war, when the military actions are taking place every day, where the air sirens are happening every day, even today,” she said via a translator. “We all feel your support,” She added. “Mother’s Day is a very symbolic day for us because we also feel your love and support during such an important day.”