Volodymyr Zelensky’s momentous trip to meet Joe Biden saw the Ukrainian President brought to the United States by a phalanx of NATO spy planes and US fighter jets in a meticulously planned, maximum security operation. The Ukrainian president crossed into Poland early yesterday, according to Poland broadcasters TVN24, arriving at a train station in Przemysl, a border town and the arrival point for many refugees fleeing the war.
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Earlier, a US Boeing Awacs (Airborne warning and control) surveillance plane was dispatched from its base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, for a scouting mission over the North Sea, which is patrolled by Russian submarines.
Accompanied by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, Mr Zelensky was then transported in a US Embassy vehicle to an airport in Rzeszow, where he boarded a nonstop flight on a Boeing C-40 military transport.
When the aircraft flew over the UK, it was escorted by a US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet dispatched from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.
The jet returned to base once Mr Zelensky’s flight crossed into Scottish airspace.
The Boeing C-40 flight then dropped off open-source trackers, only briefly reappearing off the coast of Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean.
The flying armada arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland shortly after noon.
Once Mr Zelensky landed, Secret Service protection kicked in, as is customary for visiting heads of state.
The senior administration official said the US consulted closely with Mr Zelensky on his security, and that the Ukrainian president felt it was sufficient for him to briefly travel to the United States.
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On arrival at the White House, a red carpet was waiting for him, and Mr Zelensky shook hands with both US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden. Together, they posed for pictures before ducking into the building.
The two presidents walked to the Oval Office, where they sat in armchairs in front of a portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace and a Christmas garland draped over the mantle, giving the room a cosy holiday ambience despite the grim reason for the meeting.
Mr Biden told Zelenskyy that the Ukrainian people “inspire the world” and said that “you are the man of the year in the United States of America,” referencing Zelensky’s recognition from Time Magazine.
Before he left Ukraine, Mr Zelensky had dropped a strong hint that a surprise trip abroad could be in the works.
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In a visit to Bakhmut, located in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province, he was handed a Ukrainian flag.
He pledged then that he would pass on the flag “from the boys to the Congress, to the President of the United States.”
Standing before the US Congress yesterday evening, Mr Zelensky finally produced the flag – covered in signatures from Ukrainian troops battling on the front lines.
He said: “They asked me to bring this flag to you, to the US Congress, to members of the House of Representatives and senators whose decisions can save millions of people..
“So let these decisions be taken. Let this flag stay with you. Ladies and gentlemen, this flag is a symbol of our victory in this war.”