Jill Biden, the first lady, is leaving late Thursday for Eastern Europe, where she will visit with Ukrainian refugees, displaced by the Russian invasion, and tour the Slovakian border with Ukraine, according to her office.
The first scheduled stop is on Friday in Romania, where she will meet with U.S. troops as part of her initiative to support military families, called Joining Forces. On Saturday, she will meet with Romania’s first lady, Carmen Iohannis, to express support for the country’s government, which has taken in some 850,000 of the more than five million Ukrainian refugees logged since the Russian invasion began in February, according to figures shared by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The trip will be Dr. Biden’s second overseas. Last summer, she led a delegation to the opening ceremony for the Olympics in Tokyo.
But this visit has higher diplomatic and humanitarian stakes. Her planned visit on Sunday to a border crossing in Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia, near Ukraine’s western border, will make her the latest high-profile Biden administration official to come close to the conflict zone. While there, Dr. Biden will visit with aid workers and tour a nearby chapel that serves refugees and volunteers.
Dr. Biden, a college English professor, will also visit a public school on Sunday that is hosting Ukrainian students. The East Wing of the White House said that she would spend time with mothers and children as the families participate in activities to celebrate International Mother’s Day.
“Dr. Biden is inspired by the resilience and strength of the Ukrainian people and hopes to communicate that Americans are standing with them,” Michael LaRosa, her press secretary, wrote in an email detailing the particulars of the weekend trip. “On Mother’s Day, she will meet with Ukrainian mothers and children who have been forced to flee their home country because of Putin’s war.”
For first ladies dating back to Eleanor Roosevelt, visiting troops abroad — and showcasing soft diplomacy — has become something of an informal requirement.
As first ladies, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama all traveled solo to military bases overseas to visit troops. (“I have a feeling I’m signing checkbooks,” Barbara Bush joked to one Marine as she tired of signing autographs during a 1990 visit to a base in Saudi Arabia.)
But Dr. Biden’s trip involves more diplomatic complexities than visiting American soldiers. The war in Ukraine has triggered a vast refugee crisis and presented President Biden with urgent foreign policy issues. In the last few weeks, he has shifted from a position of not wanting to create the appearance of a direct conflict between Washington and Moscow to one of heightened rhetoric and support for Ukraine.