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A 10-Hour Train Ride, Skeletal Group Of Advisors And Guards, How US President Biden Travelled To Kyiv, What It Means

No President of the United States since at least President Abraham Lincoln has travelled to an active war zone. President Joe Biden spent around 20 hours on a train as he travelled between Poland and Ukraine.

President Joe Biden in a train that he used between Poland and Ukraine
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In a visit unprecedented in modern history, US President Joe Biden on Monday visited Ukrainian capital Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Biden left the White House secretly and travelled to Ukraine covertly. Unlike the usual presidential transport of Air Force One, Biden travelled for around 10 hours in a train from Poland to Kyiv. 

In Kyiv, Biden met Zelenskyy, First Lady Olena Zelenska, and top Ukrainian official and delivered a strong message of continious support of US support to the country that's about to observe the first anniversary of invasion by Russia. After spending around five hours in Kyiv, Biden again travelled to Poland in a 10-hour train journey. 

Here we explain how the White House maintained the secrecy of Biden's visit, why is it so significant, and how it's unprecedented in modern history.

How Biden's Kyiv visit was planned?

Only a select few officials in the White House, National Security Council, Department of Defense, and Secret Service were aware of Biden's visit. 

Biden and First Lady Jill Biden went to Sunday mass and then to an Italian restaurant in Washington DC for dinner. Following the dinner, the two returned to the White House but while the world believed they had retired for night, Biden quietly left the White House without the full cavalcade and security entourage and boarded a military aircraft to Poland. 

"But a few hours after midnight, Mr. Biden was spirited out of the mansion and taken to Joint Base Andrews in the Maryland suburbs, where a small coterie of aides, security agents, a medical team, a White House photographer and two journalists awaited him," reported The New York Times. 

Usually, a 13-member press pool travels with Biden but only two journalists were allowed on the visit to Kyiv. Both the journalists were sworn to secrecy and their phones were confiscated until they reached Kyiv. The two journalists were Sabrina Siddiqui from The Wall Street Journal and Evan Vucci from The Associated Press.

To maintain the secrecy, the railway station in Poland where Biden boarded the train to Kyiv was not emptied and there were onlookers at the time.

The Hill reported, "Biden boarded a train at Przemśl Glówny station in Poland at 9:37 p.m. on Sunday. A small group of passengers was waiting for another train and periodically looked over, but it was unclear if the travelers realized that it was Biden and his entourage boarding."

There was only a small security detail with Biden and only three senior officials accompanied him to Kyiv, namely National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, and Director of Oval Office Operations Annie Tomasini.

The Hill reported, "Biden’s train ride into Kyiv took roughly 10 hours, with a few stops along the way, including one to pick up additional security. The president stepped off the train at roughly 8 a.m. local time."

How was Biden's visit unprecedented

While earlier presidents have visited conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, no one in modern history has visited an active war zone. 

Earlier, the visits to Iraq or of Donald Trump to Afghanistan were after hostilities had ended and the territory was under US control. In Ukraine, neither the airspace nor the ground was under US control and Secret Service only had limited presence. 

The New York Times reported that there is no equivalent of Biden's visit since at least Abraham Lincoln who visited the Civil War battlezones. 

The Times reported, "Since Abraham Lincoln rode to the front lines outside Washington to watch battles in Northern Virginia during the Civil War, no sitting president has gotten that close to combat. Franklin D. Roosevelt visited North Africa; Lyndon B. Johnson went to Vietnam; Bill Clinton toured the Balkans; George W. Bush and Barack Obama traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan; and Donald J. Trump went to Afghanistan.

"But in all those cases, they went to countries or areas under control of American forces or after hostilities had eased. In this case, the United States military would not be present in Ukraine, nor would it control the airspace."

Moreover, it is also almost unprecedented for the US president to travel in any vehicle other than the designated car called the Beast. There are two identical Beasts in any convoys to confuse any adversary.

In footage of Biden's visit in Kyiv, air-raid sirens could be heard as he walks with Zelenskyy in Kyiv. 

Why was Biden's visit to Kyiv important?

Biden's visit to Kyiv was important as it demonstrates the US support to Ukraine. It comes days before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.

It has been said that Russia is counting on the West's fatigue in supporting Ukraine. In visiting Kyiv, Biden demonstrated that the United States stands with Ukraine. While actions itself were extraordinary, he laid the intention clear in words as well. 

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Biden in a statement released by the White House said that the visit showed "unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity". He also slammed Putin in the statement.

He said, "When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong."

Biden further announced that the United States would provide more critical weaponry to Ukraine in coming days.

He said, "I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments. And I will share that later this week, we will announce additional sanctions against elites and companies that are trying to evade or backfill Russia’s war machine."

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The visit was received quite well in Ukraine. The head of Ukrainian railways share a photo on Twitter and called the train Biden travelled in "Rail Force One" after the Air Force One presidential aircraft.

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