US

Revealed: Biden’s extraordinary journey to Ukraine – and the lengths taken to keep it a secret

US President Joe Biden has become the latest and most powerful Western leader to visit Kyiv since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

The show of solidarity for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his people came as a surprise to many, as the White House said last week that the US president had no intention of visiting Ukraine.

Whether or not that statement was true at the time is something we will likely never know, but some details of how the president’s secretive and historic visit was carried out are beginning to emerge.

Here is how the high-security operation unfolded.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player


0:14

‘I gotta handshake here, too?’

Journalists told to await ‘arrival instructions for the golf tourney’

Two journalists were summoned to a private meeting with the White House’s communications director Kate Bedingfield on Friday.

They were informed that President Biden would be travelling to Kyiv and that they were the only two journalists who would be allowed to travel with him.

They would form the “travel pool” – meaning it would be their responsibility to share details with other news organisations.

These pool reporters were sworn to secrecy about the trip and told to look out for an email containing instructions for an early Sunday morning departure from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The subject line would read: “Arrival instructions for the golf tourney.”

The email arrived just after 3pm eastern US time (8pm UK time) on Saturday.

The journalists were told to report to the Andrews base between 2am and 2.15am eastern US time (7am and 7.15am UK time) the following morning.

Departure from the air base

The pool journalists arrived at the base and had their phones taken from them. The devices were not returned until their arrival at the US embassy in Kyiv more than 24 hours later.

They then boarded an Air Force C-32 often used to fly into smaller airports during domestic travel.

Before its departure, the plane sat in the dark next to a hangar with the shades drawn and away from the tarmac where it is typically parked for presidential travel.

Air Force One departed from the Andrews base at 4.15am eastern US time (9.15am UK time) on Sunday.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player


1:13

Biden talks ‘very fruitful’ – Zelenskyy

Biden arrives in Germany

Air Force One touched down at Ramstein Air Base in Germany at 5.13pm local time (4.13pm UK time) Sunday under slightly overcast skies to refuel after an approximately seven-hour flight.

The plane remained with its shades down for the duration of its time on the ground, which lasted roughly an hour and 15 minutes.

The journalists on board remained in the press cabin the entire time and did not see Mr Biden at any point during the flight or stop in Ramstein.

Air Force One took off at 6.29pm local time (5.29pm UK time) after the sun had set and the skies were dark.

Arrival in Rzeszow

Air Force One landed at the Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in southeastern Poland at 7.57pm local time (8:57pm UK time) on Sunday.

The airport was clear upon Mr Biden’s arrival.

The journalists did not see the US president get out of Air Force One before he was quickly ushered towards an SUV.

The president’s motorcade began rolling at 8.12pm local time (7.12pm UK time) on a roughly one-hour drive along a fairly empty eastbound highway.

One of the pool journalists counted at least 20 cars in the motorcade which consisted of a mix of minivans, SUVs and suburbans – and sirens were not used to avoid drawing attention.

Biden catches the train from Poland to Ukraine

Biden’s motorcade arrived at the Przemysl Głowny train station at approximately 9.15pm local time (8.15pm UK time).

The motorcade pulled directly up to a train that was mostly purple with two large strips at the bottom from its exterior and large square windows with the shades mostly drawn.

A handful of the train cars were blue with a yellow stripe along the middle and were reminiscent of the trains that have brought refugees into Poland from Ukraine.

Mr Biden was dropped directly in front of his train car.

The pool journalists were escorted to their own train car and put in separate sleeper cabins, each of which contained four single bunkbed-style beds.

One of the journalists was told by a security officer that the train had approximately eight cars, including the engines.

Most of the train was occupied by a heavy security presence.

A small group of passengers awaiting a separate train on the opposite side of the tracks were huddled in conversation and occasionally glanced over, but it was unclear if they could make out any of the activity unfolding before them.

The train left Przemysl Głowny at 9.37pm local time (8.37pm UK time).

One of the pool journalists was told by an agent on board that the train crossed the border into Ukraine at roughly 10pm local time on Sunday but this was not confirmed.

Much of the journey occurred in the dark and so there was little visible beyond streetlights and the shadows of buildings in the distance.

There was no interaction between the pool journalists and White House staff traveling with the president throughout the 10-hour journey, nor any sightings of Mr Biden on his favourite mode of transport.

There were a handful of stops, at least once to pick up additional security, along the way. It was not always clear what prompted the stops, most of which were brief, and the journalists were isolated from the staff on board.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player


0:59

Biden and Zelenskyy meet in Kyiv

Biden arrives in Kyiv

The sun had risen as the train carrying President Biden approached the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

One of the journalists aboard described how “views from the window largely consisted of graffiti walls, barren winter trees and a colourful assortment of brick homes – many of them in pastel colours”.

The train came to a stop at the Kyiv-Pasazhyrsky station at roughly 8am local time (6am UK time) on Monday.

The area around the platform had been cleared and US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, awaited Mr Biden and his staff in chilly outdoor conditions.

The president’s first words after stepping off the train were: “It’s good to be back in Kyiv.”

The motorcade, which again was a mix of SUVs, minivans and armoured vehicles, rolled from the train station to Mariinsky Palace – the official residence of the Ukrainian president.

Along the way, the motorcade passed Kyiv’s Independence Square, the site of major demonstrations in 2013 and 2014.

The president’s stops consisted of a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Mariinsky Palace, a walkabout with Mr Zelenskyy at St. Michael’s Cathedral, and a stop at the US embassy in Kyiv.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player


0:32

Joe Biden arrives in Poland

Biden heads back to Poland

Biden departed Kyiv just before 1.10pm local time (11.10am UK time) in the same train he arrived in.

The train crossed the border back into Poland shortly after 8pm local time (7pm UK time).

The train arrived at the Przemyśl Główny at 8:45pm (7.45pm).

Articles You May Like

West ‘shouldn’t be afraid’: Estonian PM urges allies to stand up to Russian intimidation
Black people like me because I’m ‘discriminated against’ too, Trump claims
Joe Biden wins Michigan primary but faces voter backlash
The biggest spring questions for the top 25 teams
The Match 2024: McIlroy comes out on top