By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) – Jill Biden on Saturday heard heartbreaking stories of Ukrainian women and children fleeing the Russian war and finding safe refuge in Romania, with a mother telling the first lady of the United States a heartbreaking getaway after hiding in a cold, cramped environment. basement with his traumatized 8-year-old daughter.
Arriving in Romania “was a game changer for us,” Svitlana Gollyak of Kharkiv, Ukraine, told Biden in her mother tongue during the first lady’s tour of a public school in Bucharest that hosts refugee children. Gollyak said his daughter “feels so much better here … No more tears and she adapted very well.”
Biden told Gollyak and the other women, “I think mothers will do anything for their children,” adding that they were “incredibly strong and resilient.”
Biden said his message to families was “we are with you.” During a craft activity, he watched the children scribble messages on cut-out papers from their hands. A young Ukrainian woman wrote: “I want to go back with my father.” Biden later told reporters that the girl’s words were “heartbreaking.”
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The first lady praised the Romanian government and relief organizations for the range of humanitarian aid they are providing to refugees. At school, the first lady, herself a teacher, watched as teachers help some of the approximately 900,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Romania since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th.
“Really, in many ways, teachers are the glue that helps these kids cope with their trauma and dealing with emotion and helps them give them a sense of normalcy,” Biden said.
He added that he saw signs of hope for families who “felt that there was some structure in their lives and that they were receiving supplies. They all realized how much money the United States has given to Ukraine and the United States. situation of refugees and in Romania to support refugees “.
Most Ukrainians who have fled to Romania, mostly women and children, have moved to other countries, but about 100,000 remain, according to officials.
Earlier, Biden was briefed at the U.S. Embassy on the relief effort. His visit to Eastern Europe comes as President Joe Biden pressures Congress to approve an additional $ 33 billion in security and economic assistance to Ukraine.
Jill Biden called the show of solidarity “amazing,” but also “just the beginning.” He said it was inspiring for Romanians to “welcome all these refugees into their homes and offer them food, clothing and shelter and give them their heart.”
But he also warned that much more needs to be done to help Ukraine and its allies.
“We’re all hopeful, right,” he told reporters. “We wake up every morning and think, ‘This is about to end,’ but it’s still going on.”
Some 7,000 Ukrainians cross the border and arrive in Romania daily, said Pablo Zapata, the Romanian representative to the UN Refugee Agency.
The United Nations, other agencies and the Romanian government are assisting refugees with food, housing, education, health and mental health care and counseling, among other services.
Biden specifically asked about the provision of mental health services and whether there was a summer school available to help refugee students catch up on their education. He later said that “everyone is seeing that we need more mental health care” for children and their parents.
The first lady is on the second day of a four-day trip to Romania and Slovakia, which shares a border with Ukraine, which is designed to show U.S. support for refugees. Biden was scheduled to spend Sunday, Mother’s Day, meeting with refugees in Slovakia and visiting a border town.
Biden had lunch with Romania’s first lady, Carmen Iohannis, at his private residence. Iohannis, who accompanied Biden during her visit to the school, continued her work as an English teacher when her husband took office, just as Biden maintained her teaching at a community college in Virginia.
The emotional thread of Biden’s day continued after she arrived in the Slovak capital. At his first stop, he laid flowers at a monument to Jan Kuciak, a 26-year-old investigative journalist, and his fiancée, who were killed in 2018. The case sparked a political crisis and brought down the government of the country.
Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.
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