Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first wartime trip overseas comes after 10 months of relentless Russian attacks.
But Ukrainians in Kyiv are cautiously optimistic that the visit to the US — announced just hours before Zelensky was due to arrive in Washington, DC — could boost Ukraine’s efforts and send a signal to the world.
“It’s (a) very unexpected visit for us. And the expectations are really high,” Natalia Dmytieva said while playing with her grandson in a Kyiv playground that was hit by a Russian missile strike in October.
“This is not the war anymore; this is terrorism,” she said of Russia’s repeated attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid. “Ukraine shouldn’t live in darkness.”
“The world is preparing for Christmas holidays, but we are not able to do the same this year,” she said. “It’s so difficult to explain to children why we don’t have a tree, why we can’t have fun as being shown on TV,” she told CNN.
An officer in the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces who declined to provide his name added that he was “pleasantly surprised” by news of the visit.
“Probably the importance of the visit is so high that he decided to do it personally. So I welcome it,” he said.
The officer hoped that Zelensky used the trip to keep global attention on the conflict. “If I were the president, I would say, ‘Imagine if Hitler could be stopped at the first stages'” of World War II. “We are fighting not only for our freedom, but also for theirs.”
Ruslan Zakharchenko, a law student, praised Zelensky for leading Ukraine’s war response for 10 uninterrupted months. “He stayed here in the most difficulties time and never left us,” he said.
But he said Zelensky’s departure to go to the US is a “justified step” in shoring up Washington’s support.
“The aim should be … to win in this war,” he added. “In order to achieve this, we need fast delivery of weapon and military equipment.”
Several Kyiv residents said they hoped the US would commit to send more weapons to Ukraine, bolster its air defenses and pursue even stronger punishments against Russia.
Yet while some residents are hopeful, others said the trip is unlikely to mark a turning point.
“We shouldn’t expect anything from the United States,” said Andriy, who previously worked with the Ukrainian military and declined to provide his last name. “The worst thing is to hope for some assistance and to be disappointed when it doesn’t come.”
“Zelensky may want something that USA don’t want to give us, or vice versa,” he said.