Planes, trains, and automobiles: President Biden’s secret trip to Ukraine

Image via Evan Vucci/AP

Image via Evan Vucci/AP

Emmalina Sjapeki, Co-Editor in Chief

 

In a covert trip that sounds similar to the plot of an action movie, President Biden snuck into the capital of Ukraine under the cover of darkness. While the world thought that the President of the United States was having a calm weekend evening in D.C, Biden was actually being whisked through a war torn nation in an effort to galvanize American support for the war.

 

Biden made the trip in order to demonstrate America’s determination to support Ukraine in defeating Russia, as well as to promise President Volodymyr Zelensky more weapons for the war effort. The pair laid a wreath at the Wall of Remembrance at St. Michael’s Monastery, and Biden took some time to meet with the staff at the U.S. embassy. Even though the visit proved immensely successful, the danger was ever present, evidenced by the fact that as the pair visited the memorial for fallen soldiers, an air-raid siren went off.

 

The precariousness of the event is emphasized by three key details. First, unlike many past presidential visits to active war zones, there were no U.S. troops in the air or on the ground. Second, in a sharp contrast to his previous visits to the country, Biden was traveling by train instead of by jet, a method of transportation typically avoided for high level officials because they are slow and can be vulnerable to attacks. Third, Biden spent much of his time outside of a shelter, a risk usually avoided when the president visits an active war zone. 

 

In order to cut down on the transportation and publicity risks, Biden traveled with a small team of advisers and Secret Service agents. Only two journalists were taken on the journey as opposed to the usual 13: Sabrina Siddiqui from Wall Street Journal and Evan Vucci from The Associated Press. Both were told to find information about the visit in an email with the subject line: “Arrival Instructions for the Golf Tourney.”

 

Before the trip, Biden and his wife had spent a relatively tame day in Washington, D.C. The couple went to Mass at Georgetown University, visited the National Museum of American History, and went to a trendy restaurant in D.C. A few hours later, the President was in the air. Instead of Air Force One, the typical mode of transportation for the country’s leader, Biden used Air Force C-32, typically used for domestic trips and chosen to arouse less suspicion. Once he arrived at the Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in Poland, Biden was put into a 20 car motorcade where he drove to the city of Przemyśl, then traveled by train into Ukraine.

 

Those close to the president advised against the trip for many months, but after successful visits to Ukraine from other world leaders, those close to Biden decided it was fine for him to make the journey. However, they still went to extreme lengths to ensure the highest level of secrecy and safety for the president. The White House even put out a false schedule that the President was still in D.C. and would leave for Europe on Monday, hours after Biden had crossed the Ukrainian border. 

 

Despite his support for the visit and his anticipation for the upcoming meeting, the journey seemed to weigh on him. According to an official on the trip, Biden spent a restless night on the train, thinking about past visits to Ukraine and the war’s upcoming year-long anniversary. Most of all, the fundamental purpose of the war seemed to haunt him.

 

“It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine,” Biden said before leaving, “It’s about freedom of democracy at large.”