KYIV, Ukraine — Senate Republicans including Susan Collins of Maine met with Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday as Russian troops reportedly withdrew from the country’s second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks.
The previously unannounced trip to Ukraine was led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Zelenskyy’s office posted a video of senators greeting him on Saturday, calling the visit “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine from the United States Congress and the American people.”
It came as Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was entering a “long term … phase of the war.” Zelenskyy said Ukrainians were doing their “maximum” to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.
McConnell, Collins and Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas were shown in the video released by Zelenskyy’s office. Collins’ office did not immediately confirm details of the trip. Information on visits like this is typically heavily guarded until officials leave for security reasons.
Their trip came after Kentucky’s other senator, Rand Paul, blocked until next week the Senate’s approval of an additional $40 billion to help Ukraine and its allies withstand Russia’s three-month old invasion.
“They’re only asking for the resources they need to defend themselves against this deranged invasion,” McConnell said this past week of the Ukrainians. “And they need this help right now.”
After Russian forces failed to capture Kyiv following the Feb. 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, an industrial region where Ukrainian troops have battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Russia’s offensive aims to encircle Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped troops, who are based in the east, and to seize parts of the Donbas that remain in Ukraine’s control.
Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around in the east, hindering efforts to get a full picture of the direction the fighting is taking. But the battle appears to be a back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side.
It was the second high-profile congressional delegation to stop in Ukraine in as many weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited on May 1 with a group of House Democrats and promised Zelenskyy that the U.S. will “be there for you until the fight is done.”
First lady Jill Biden visited western Ukraine last weekend for a Mother’s Day meeting with Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena Zelenska.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writers Oleksandr Stashevskyi and David Keyton wrote this report. AP writers Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa, Jill Lawless in London and others around the world contributed to this report.