US President Joe Biden hugged Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he arrived in Kyiv for a surprise visit on Monday.
Mr Biden landed in the Ukrainian capital for a stop on a European trip to coincide with the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Friday. “The cost that Ukraine has had to pay is extraordinarily high,” he said. “Sacrifices have been far too great.”
Air raid sirens rang out as Mr Biden went on a walkabout of the city, laying a wreath at a memorial wall.
The leaders were also seen outside a cathedral, where burnt-out Russian tanks had been placed as a symbol of Moscow's failed assault on the capital at the outset of its invasion, when its forces swiftly reached the city's ramparts only to be turned back by fierce resistance.
Since then, tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides have died, cities have been reduced to rubble and millions of refugees have fled.
Russia claims to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine, while the West has committed tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv.
The visit was Mr Biden's first to Ukraine since the outbreak of war, and will be symbolically important to Mr Zelenskyy, who is asking western allies for fighter jets to repel Russian forces.
A 'great honour'
Mr Zelenskyy said it was “a great honour” to welcome Mr Biden to Ukraine.
“Our discussions and conversations bring us closer to victory. I hope 2023 will be year of victory against the unprovoked and criminal attack on Ukraine,” he said.
“Together with Mr Biden and allies, we have to continue doing everything possible so democracy will win in this historic fight. We remain constantly in communication over the course of this large scale war.”
The pair appeared at Mariinskyi Palace, the president's residence, where Mr Biden announced an additional $500 million in US assistance to Ukraine.
Shortly before arriving in Kyiv, the US told Moscow that Mr Biden was making a surprise trip to Kyiv to avoid any chance of conflict, a senior White House aide said.
“We did notify the Russians that President Biden will be travelling to Kyiv. We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who accompanied the President on the trip, told reporters.
Freedom and democracy
Mr Biden said the war was about freedom and democracy in Europe and at large and he was there to show the US's “unwavering support” for Ukraine.
“We spoke on the telephone a year ago. You told me you could hear explosions in the background. I will never forget that. The world was about to change. I asked what can I do for you. How can I be of help,” Mr Biden said.
“You said ‘gather the leaders of the world, ask them to support Ukraine'. You said you didn’t know when we would be able to speak again.
“That dark night a year ago the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Perhaps even the end of Ukraine. One year later Kyiv stands. Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. America stands with you and the world stands with you. Kyiv has captured a part of my heart.”
He said Russia’s “war of conquest” is failing.
“The military has lost half the territory it once occupied,” said Mr Biden.
“Its young are fleeing, not just from military but from Russia itself because they see no future in their country. Russia’s economy is now a backwater, isolated and struggling. He thought he could outlast us, but I don’t think he is thinking that now. He was plain wrong. The evidence is here. We stand here together.”
The visit came a day before Russia's President Vladimir Putin's scheduled a major address, setting out aims for the second year of what he now calls a proxy war against the armed might of Washington and Nato.
“Of course for the Kremlin, this will be seen as further proof that the United States has bet on Russia's strategic defeat in the war and that the war itself has turned irrevocably into a war between Russia and the West,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst.
“Tomorrow's address was expected to be very hawkish, targeted at a demonstrative rupture of relations with the West. Now additional edits could be introduced to make it even tougher.”
The new US package for Ukraine includes artillery ammunition, anti-tank weapons and air surveillance radar.
In a statement released by the White House, Mr Biden said: “Today, in Kyiv, I am meeting with President Zelenskyy and his team for an extended discussion on our support for Ukraine.
“I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, 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.
“Over the last year, the United States has built a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific to help defend Ukraine with unprecedented military, economic, and humanitarian support — and that support will endure.”
His arrival was welcomed by Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko on Twitter.
“Yes, confirmed @POTUS in #Kyiv. Welcome Mr President! Looking forward to the announcements following the air raid sirens experience,” she wrote.
Mr Biden has since travelled to Poland, to discuss bilateral co-operation with President Andrzej Duda, and meet Nato leaders to underscore Washington's support for the alliance.
Russia is trying to take full control of two eastern provinces comprising Donbas industrial region.
It has launched assaults at locations running from Kreminna in the north to Vuhledar in the south, making its biggest gains around the mining city of Bakhmut.
Kyiv, which is absorbing donations of western weaponry for a counter-offensive, has lately stuck mainly to defence on the battlefield, claiming to be inflicting huge casualties on Russian forces.
Meanwhile, a group of European Union member states is pushing for the bloc to ramp up its ability to hit back against those helping Russia circumvent sanctions, including through the use of trade measures.
The new powers may include issuing warnings to people or companies outside and in the EU that are helping Russia get around sanctions and giving the bloc the ability to act where this relates to products used against Ukraine in battle, according to a draft of the proposal seen by Bloomberg.
“Russia is trying to keep supplying its military industry with the necessary components despite our sanctions,” according to the proposal.
“Alternative supply chains are created through the use of front companies and intermediates in the circle of countries around Russia. Special focus should be put on western components that are crucial to the Russian military industry.”