Two U.S. Lawmakers Visit Kyiv to Show Support for Ukraine

Two U.S. Lawmakers Visit Kyiv to Show Support for Ukraine

BORODIANKA, Ukraine — In a hastily organized show of support for Ukraine, Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Representative Victoria Spartz of Indiana traveled on Thursday to Kyiv and sites of rights abuses in the city’s suburbs, becoming the first American officials to turn up since the start of the war.

“Nothing can substitute for actually being here, seeing it first-hand, spending time with the people and leaders here in Ukraine who have been horribly affected by this war,” Mr. Daines said in an interview, standing on a heap of rubble from an apartment building that had collapsed on its inhabitants in the town of Borodianka.

It was important, he said, for American elected officials to show solidarity.

Mr. Daines and Ms. Spartz, both Republicans, were invited by the Ukrainian government, with just over a day’s notice. Mr. Daines had broken off from a visit to Eastern Europe to make the trip. Ms. Spartz, who last year became the first Ukrainian-born lawmaker to serve in Congress, had planned an unofficial visit to Ukraine and later joined Mr. Daines for the trip supported by the Ukrainian government.

Once in Kyiv, where they arrived by train from western Ukraine, the pair traveled by car escorted by the police on a route through stark scenes of destruction, blown-up Russian tanks and rubble, where rescuers were still searching for bodies. The two also observed an exhumation from a communal grave in Bucha, a town northwest of Kyiv where hundreds of bodies were found on the streets after Russian forces retreated.

The horror in Bucha — where some victims’ hands were bound and some had been shot in the head, in a sign of extrajudicial killings — has become emblematic of the war’s toll and a new touchstone of rights abuse in wartime in Europe. Several European delegations have also visited the site.

The two Republican lawmakers arrived as the Biden administration is considering sending a high-level official to Kyiv in the days ahead as a sign of support, according to a person familiar with the internal discussions.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have both made high-profile visits over the past month to countries neighboring Ukraine, and other top American officials have made similar visits, some coming close to the border. But no American official had publicly visited Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in late February, and the United States has evacuated all diplomats.

Both Mr. Daines and Ms. Spartz said they were urging the United States to return diplomats to Ukraine as some European states have done now that Kyiv, the capital, is no longer under imminent threat of attack by Russia.

“I hope that our visit will encourage more American officials and leaders to come, to stand with the people of Ukraine,” Mr. Daines said, while Ms. Spartz said it was “important to show our support, to show we care.”

Standing in the rubble of the collapsed building, where Ukrainian officials have said that at least 21 people died, Mr. Daines found a child’s toy — a wooden car — and looked into apartments that had been peeled open by the explosion, revealing kitchen cabinets still hanging on a wall.

In Bucha, the two watched the Ukrainian authorities remove three bodies from the tan clay soil of a churchyard where a communal grave was being excavated.

Mr. Daines described what he had seen as “indisputable evidence of war crimes.”

“It’s everywhere,” he said. “We’ve been driving for miles and miles and miles, seeing death and destruction caused by Vladimir Putin in this evil invasion.”

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, said he had arranged the visit in the hope that more American lawmakers would follow, get a first-hand sense of the stakes in the war, and vote to provide additional weapons to Ukraine.

Both Ms. Spartz and Mr. Daines said they supported bipartisan efforts in Congress to spur the Biden administration to deliver weapons to the Ukrainian Army more swiftly.

“I think we should be providing the lethal aid that they need to win this war,” Mr. Daines said. “The humanitarian crisis will not end until the war ends. And the war will not end until the Ukrainians win.”

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