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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an unannounced trip to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Saturday, becoming the most senior US official to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the war broke out more than two months ago.
Pelosi's office said Sunday that the speaker had led an official congressional delegation to Ukraine -- the first since Russian invasion of the country began on February 24.
President Joe Biden spoke with Pelosi on Sunday to discuss her trip to Ukraine and her meeting with Zelenskyy, according to a statement from the White House shared by the press pool.
Zelenskyy shared a video Sunday of his meeting with the congressional delegation and thanked the US for its support of Ukraine against Russian aggression.
In the clip, Pelosi is seen telling Zelenskyy, "We are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom, that we're on a frontier of freedom and that your fight is a fight for everyone. And so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done."
Pelosi was joined by several senior House Democrats on the trip, including Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence panel, and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who leads the House Rules Committee. Democratic Reps. Bill Keating of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California and Jason Crow of Colorado were also part of the delegation, according to Pelosi's office.
The lawmakers spent just over three hours on the ground in Kyiv, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. The lawmakers later landed in Poland, where they were to meet with President Andrzej Duda and other senior officials.
Speaking to reporters Sunday at a news conference in Rzeszow, Poland, Pelosi said her discussions with Zelenskyy centered around security, humanitarian and economic assistance, and eventually rebuilding Ukraine.
"We were proud to convey to him a message of unity from the Congress of the US. A message of appreciation from the American people for his leadership and admiration to the people of Ukraine for their courage," she said. "America stands with Ukraine, we stand with Ukraine until victory is won, and we stand with NATO."
'Speed of war'
The delegation's visit comes as the US and its allies are stepping up to provide long-term support to Ukraine as the fighting rages on.
Last week, responding to pleas from Zelenskyy, a group of 40 nations gathered by the US in Germany agreed to streamline and expedite the delivery of weapons to Ukraine. "We've got to move at the speed of war," said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv last week along with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that would allow Biden to use a World War II-era law, known as the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, to swiftly supply weapons to Ukraine on loan. That law was originally created to help forces fighting Nazi Germany and reflects the urgency in Congress to support the Ukrainian armed forces.
Biden also asked Congress for a $33 billion supplemental funding bill to aid Ukraine over the next several months as Russia's brutal and unrelenting war enters a new phase. Biden also outlined a proposal that would further pressure Russian oligarchs over the war in Ukraine, including using money from their seized assets to fund Ukraine's defense.
The package is significantly larger than other packages that have been put forward and is more than twice as much as the $13.6 billion infusion of military and humanitarian aid that Congress approved last month.
Zelenskyy stressed the importance of the financial assistance in his meeting with Pelosi and the other lawmakers. "The signals that the United States and President Biden are giving today are very important. These are recent strong steps in defense and financial support for Ukraine, as well as decisions on Lend-Lease -- we are grateful for that," he said.
Schiff in a statement Sunday lauded the Ukrainian army, saying that "in the face of unimaginable odds," it had "thwarted (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's most egregious plans and fended off Russian forces for more than two months. As Ukrainians defend their homes, the U.S. has supported their fight for freedom by allocating significant funding for humanitarian, military, and economic assistance.
"It is imperative that Congress comes together to expeditiously take up President Biden's request for an additional $33 billion in security and humanitarian assistance," he added. "There's no time to waste. And the stakes grow higher with every passing day."
Strong signal of support
The trip to Kyiv by Pelosi, who is second in line to succeed the president as speaker of the US House, marks a significant measure of commitment to supporting Ukraine from the most senior level of US leadership.
"Our Congressional Delegation had the solemn opportunity and extraordinary honor of meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv," read a news release from Pelosi's office. "Our delegation conveyed our respect and gratitude to President Zelenskyy for his leadership and our admiration of the Ukrainian people for their courage in the fight against Russia's oppression."
Zelenskyy awarded Pelosi with the Order of Princess Olga for her "significant personal contribution" to strengthening Ukrainian and American ties. Olga was the first woman to rule Kievan Rus, a medieval East Slavic state. The order bearing her name is awarded to women who have achieved significant success in politics and society -- the personification in Ukraine of female strength.
Zelenskyy also gave Pelosi a Ukrainian flag signed by him and female members of the Ukrainian Parliament, including those she had met with at the US Capitol recently, according to Hammill, Pelosi's spokesman.
- by Michelle Watson and Eliza Mackintosh, CNN