House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a surprise visit to Kyiv, telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United States is committed to “be there for you until the fight is done.”
Pelosi, a California Democrat who is next in line to the presidency after the vice president, became the highest-ranking U.S. leader to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded more than two months ago. She led Democratic lawmakers on the first official congressional delegation there since the war began.
“We are on a frontier of freedom, and your fight is a fight for everyone,” Pelosi told Zelensky in a meeting her office said took place on Saturday evening local time. A video of the remarks was shared by Zelensky’s office.
At a news conference Sunday in Poland, Pelosi said the West could not just back down in the face of Russian threats. “Let me just speak for myself,” Pelosi said. “Do not be bullied by bullies. If they’re making threats, you cannot back down. We’re there for the fight, and you cannot fold to a bully.”
Pelosi and several other House Democrats made the visit two days after President Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $33 billion spending package that would provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Biden has asked Congress to swiftly approve funds to help Kyiv in what may be a decisive phase in its war with Russia.
Speaking at a news conference in Poland after leaving Ukraine, one of the members of the delegation, Rep. Jason Crow (Colo.), said Sunday that the emphasis of the trip was clear: “Weapons, weapons and weapons,” echoing a recent remark by Ukraine’s foreign minister. “We have to make sure the Ukrainians have the weapons to win.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), another member of the delegation, said the trip showed a need for more pressure on Russia. “Nothing is going to decrease,” Meeks said.
News of the visit was broken by Zelensky, who on Sunday morning shared a video of Pelosi walking the streets of Ukraine’s capital with other House Democrats, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (Calif.), Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (Mass.), Meeks and Crow. Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.) and William Keating (Mass.) were also part of the delegation, Pelosi’s office said.
Writing on Twitter, Zelensky thanked the visitors for “helping to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state!”
After their meeting, the Ukrainian president awarded Pelosi the Order of Princess Olga medal, conferring on her a Ukrainian civil decoration that, according to a 1997 presidential decree, is given to women who have made outstanding contributions to the Ukrainian state.
Pelosi’s delegation then traveled to Poland for meetings with Polish President Andrzej Duda and senior officials, according to a statement from Pelosi’s office.
The lawmakers, in a statement, said Zelensky began the meeting by thanking the Americans for “the substantial assistance that we have provided.”
“Our delegation proudly delivered the message that additional American support is on the way, as we work to transform President Biden’s strong funding request into a legislative package,” the statement added.
“Our delegation traveled to Kyiv to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine,” the lawmakers said in the statement.
The delegation’s visit came after the highest-ranking visitors so far from the Biden administration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, arrived in Ukraine’s capital last week.
During that visit, the United States announced that it would bring diplomats back to Ukraine, though only on a daily basis and not in the capital, as some European nations have done, amid ongoing security concerns from Russian shelling.
Diplomats will begin by making day trips from Poland to Ukraine’s western city of Lviv as a first step in reopening the U.S. Embassy, which was shuttered before the invasion. Poland is a member of NATO and the European Union. It has taken in more than 3 million Ukrainian refugees, by far the most of any nation, according to U.N. figures.
As with Pelosi’s visit, Zelensky announced that Blinken and Austin would be coming before any announcement from the United States.
A number of world leaders and top officials have visited Ukraine to showcase their support since Russia’s invasion, including European Council President Charles Michel, who met with Zelensky in Kyiv last month, calling the capital the “heart of a free and democratic Europe.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have also made the journey - in addition to the Czech, Polish and Slovenian prime ministers. In remarks during his unannounced meeting with Zelensky, Johnson said his visit was a show of Britain’s “unwavering support for the people of Ukraine” and pledged further support for the war effort.
A pair of Republican lawmakers, Sen. Steve Daines (Mont.) and Rep. Victoria Spartz (Ind.), visited Ukraine in mid-April in a hastily arranged visit on the invitation of the Ukrainian government.
They were the first U.S. officials to visit Ukraine since the invasion. Daines was visiting other parts of Eastern Europe and made a last-minute switch to go to Ukraine, and Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress, was planning an unofficial visit on her own, the New York Times reported.
Despite bipartisan support for Ukraine, some Republicans have said they want to carefully examine the $33 billion figure. The Biden administration has said it plans to mount a “full-court press” to secure the funding it has pledged. “We are negotiating,” Lee said at the news conference in Poland. “That’s how democracy works.”
After Johnson’s trip, the Russian government banned him and other senior British politicians from entering Russia, citing Britain’s “unprecedented hostile actions” over the war in Ukraine for the decision.