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Jill Biden lauds Romanian efforts to help Ukrainian refugees

First Lady Jill Biden sits at a table with her fingers laced together beneath her chin
First Lady Jill Biden discusses humanitarian efforts for Ukrainian refugees during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, on Saturday.
(Associated Press)
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Jill Biden heard heartbreaking stories Saturday from Ukrainian women and children who fled Russia’s war and found safe haven in Romania, with one mother telling the U.S. first lady of a harrowing escape after being holed up in a cramped, cold basement with her traumatized 8-year-old daughter.

Reaching Romania “was a game changer for us,” Svitlana Gollyak of Kharkiv, Ukraine, told Biden in her native language during the first lady’s tour of a Bucharest public school hosting refugee children.

Gollyak said her daughter “feels much better here.... No more tears and she adapted very nicely.”

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

Biden said her message to the families was, “We stand with you.”

During a craft activity, she watched as the children scrawled messages on paper cutouts of their hands. One young Ukrainian girl wrote, “I want to return to my father.” Biden later told reporters the girl’s words were heartbreaking.

The first lady praised the Romanian government and relief organizations for the humanitarian aid they are providing refugees.

At the school, the first lady — herself a teacher — saw how teachers are helping the many Ukrainians who have fled to Romania since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“Really, in a lot of ways, the teachers are the glue that help these kids deal with their trauma and deal with the emotion and help give them a sense of normalcy,” Biden said.

She added that she saw signs of hope for families who “felt that there was some structure to their lives and they were getting supplies. They all realized how much money the United States has been giving to Ukraine and to the refugee situation and to Romania to support the refugees.”

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Most of the Ukrainians who have fled to Romania, mainly women and children, have moved on to other countries, but about 100,000 remain, officials said.

Earlier, Biden was briefed at the U.S. Embassy on the relief effort.

Her visit to Eastern Europe comes as President 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. High Commissioner for Refugees.

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The United Nations and other agencies and the Romanian government are providing refugees with diverse services, including food, shelter, education, healthcare and counseling.

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 was briefed as she opened the second day of a four-day trip to Romania and Slovakia that was designed to showcase U.S. support for Ukrainian refugees. Slovakia also shares a border with Ukraine. Biden was scheduled to spend Sunday there meeting with refugees.

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