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President Biden visits Poland in diplomatic trip to Europe


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My message to the people of Ukraine is a message I delivered today to Ukraine's foreign minister and defense minister, who I believe are here tonight. We stand with you, period.



That was President Biden earlier this hour speaking in the courtyard of the Royal Castle in Warsaw. He was there wrapping up two days in Poland, an important ally in NATO's resistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which he compared to Cold War-era Soviet invasions of Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. NPR's Joanna Kakissis is in Poland and joins us now. Hi there.


ELLIOTT: We know you're just hearing the president's address, but what's the takeaway thus far?

KAKISSIS: One of the big takeaway to Ukraine you just heard - we stand with you, period. And his message to Russia - you chose this war. You did so while lying to our faces, to the whole world, about your intentions with Ukraine - a free, democratic nation - and you are making things worse by threatening to destabilize all of Europe. And now you must pay the price. He talked about swift punishment through massive economic sanctions as the best way to punish Russia, and he talked about how these sanctions are already crippling the Russian economy and that no one but Vladimir Putin is to blame. And he also told Vladimir Putin, do not think about moving on one inch of NATO territory. And he reminded everyone that there are U.S. troops in Poland guarding NATO territory as we speak.

ELLIOTT: Now, earlier, President Biden met with key members of the Ukrainian cabinet. What can you tell us about that meeting?

KAKISSIS: We know - we don't know much about it because it was literally announced at the last minute. And, you know, Biden dropped in as the Ukrainian defense minister and foreign minister were meeting with their American counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The press was allowed to see Biden chat with the Ukrainians. And they told him they were really tired. They had traveled by train from their country where the war has obviously closed down air travel. The Ukrainians reportedly stated afterwards that they had new commitments of support from the U.S. and that more pressure would be put on countries to sanction Russia. Above all, though, this was a meeting mainly to show solidarity with Ukraine and to show that these two top Ukrainian leaders are still able to travel and conduct their business despite the Russian invasion.

ELLIOTT: The president also visited with Ukrainian refugees today. What was that like?

KAKISSIS: So President Biden walked in a crowd of Ukrainian refugees. He shook their hands. He embraced them. He - and, you know, above all, he listened to their stories. He told reporters what the children had asked him - to please say a prayer for their fathers, for their grandfathers, for their brothers who are all fighting in Ukraine. And he also said he spoke with refugees from Mariupol, the southern Ukrainian city that has been decimated by non-stop Russian bombing. And when a reporter brought up Putin, Biden called the Russian president a butcher. And Biden is doing all this in Poland because he wants to unify NATO, and this is the country on its eastern flank, right next to Ukraine. This is the country that's a main hub for Western weapons into Ukraine, a main hub for Ukrainians fleeing the war, and he wants to show as much solidarity as possible with Poland, which is shouldering so much of the burden.

ELLIOTT: Thank you. That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Thanks so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.