Mike Pence made a surprise trip to the Ukraine on Thursday and became the first Republican presidential candidate to visit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
His visit comes shortly after the Wagner Group uprising in Moscow and following a deadly Russian attack on a pizza parlor in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.
Pence visited three different cities and villages – Bucha, Irpin and Moschun – outside of Kyiv. All t hree had seen heavy destruction from Russian occupation last year.
The former vice president toured the wreckage, met with locals and laid flowers at memorials.
His visit comes about four months after President Joe Biden visited Kyiv.
Mike Pence made a surprise trip to the Ukraine becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to do so – he met with President Zelensky
Pence said the trip reiterated his support for Ukraine.
‘I believe America’s the leader of the free world,’ he told NBC News. ‘But coming here just as a private citizen — being able to really see firsthand the heroism of the Ukrainian soldiers holding the line in those woods, see the heroism of the people here in Irpin that held back the Russian army, to see families whose homes were literally shelled in the midst of an unconscionable and unprovoked Russian invasion — just steels my resolve to do my part, to continue to call for strong American support for our Ukrainian friends and allies.’
Pence has long supported Ukraine in its struggle to fend off Russia’s invasion.
Zelensky said the support of every American is ‘vital.’
‘The support of the United States for our fight for freedom is vital. The support of all Americans, every American family, all civil society groups, the Congress – both parties, both houses, and of course the support of President Joe Biden. I am grateful for this support!,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘Today, the 48th Vice President of the United States Mike Pence is in Kyiv. We discussed our defense, interaction between our nations, security cooperation, and importance of partners’ determination and certainty regarding Ukraine’s future membership in NATO.’
In March 2022, before he announced his president bid, Pence went to the Ukrainian border and met with refugees who had been displaced by the fighting.
Both trips were organized by Samaritan’s Purse, CNN reported. It’s an American evangelical disaster relief charity run by Rev. Franklin Graham. Pence and his wife Karen have volunteered with the organization.
He said he made the visit because ‘it’s important that the American people understand the progress that we’ve made and how support for the Ukrainian military has been in our national interest.’
Other Republican presidential contenders have taken different stances on Ukraine.
Donald Trump initially praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as ‘savvy’ but later said he could end the war in 24 hours.
Ron DeSantis originally called the war a ‘territorial dispute’ but later clarified his comment.
‘What I’m referring to is where the fighting is going on now, which is that eastern border region Donbas, and then Crimea, and you have a situation where Russia has had that. I don’t think legitimately, but they had,’ DeSantis told Fox Nation in March.
‘There’s a lot of ethnic Russians there. So, that’s some difficult fighting, and that’s what I was referring to, and so it wasn’t that I thought Russia had a right to that, and so if I should have made that more clear, I could have done it.’
Ukrainian firemen continue working to recover the remaining bodies from under the rubble in the Ria Pizza restaurant after a missile attack in downtown Kramatorsk City
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with Mike Pence in Kyiv
Mike Pence’s visit to Ukraine comes about four months after President Joe Biden traveled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Many Republican voters have expressed concern about the amount of money the U.S. is giving to Ukraine, arguing the money should be spent at home.
According to a Pew Research poll, 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the U.S. is giving too much aid to Ukraine.
Ukraine has begun a counter-offensive to try and beat back Russian forces.
Kyiv said its forces were gaining ground in Donbas – the same day Russian strikes on a pizza restaurant in east Ukraine killed at least 12 people.
The Ria Pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk was popular with soldiers, journalists and aid workers. The missile struck around 7:30 pm during the dinner rush.
Moscow, meanwhile, insisted that the Wagner Group rebellion that shook President Vladimir Putin’s government would not affect Russia’s operations in Ukraine.