Two Republicans have become the first members of Congress to visit Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February, as the White House mulls sending senior administration officials to the war-torn country.
Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Ukrainian-born Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana traveled to Kyiv and nearby Bucha to meet with Ukrainian officials and “see firsthand the butchery and war crimes committed by Putin.”
“There is indisputable evidence of Putin’s war crimes everywhere — the images of shallow mass graves filled with civilians, women and children are heart-wrenching,” Mr. Daines said. “America and the world need to know about Putin’s atrocities against the innocent people of Ukraine now, not after time has passed and the aftermath of evil and bloodshed have been cleaned up.”
The two lawmakers also met with leaders from NATO countries bordering Ukraine.
During the lawmakers’ visit, war crimes prosecutors were still surveying mass graves uncovered after Russian forces withdrew from the area just weeks ago. In one photograph taken at the scene, Mr. Daines holds a wooden toy uncovered from the rubble in Makariv.
Mr. Daines shared pictures and video footage of his visit to Bucha and Makariv, where Russian forces are accused of carrying out a series of atrocities against Ukrainian civilians.
Evidence of Russian atrocities carried out in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, shocked the world earlier this month in the wake of the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area around Ukraine’s capital.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address to the U.N. Security Council soon after that the evidence emerged of women and children who were murdered with their hands tied behind their backs. Some were shot execution-style in the back of the head, while others had their throats slashed.
He also said Russian tanks drove over civilian cars while people were still inside.
“Russian troops are deliberately destroying Ukrainian cities to ashes with artillery and airstrikes. They are deliberately blocking cities [and] creating mass starvation,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “They are deliberately shooting columns of civilians on the road who are trying to escape.”
The U.N.’s General Assembly later suspended Russia from the Human Rights Council, and President Biden announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, specifically targeting the adult children of Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Bucha reports.
Mr. Zelenskyy has encouraged world leaders to visit Ukraine to witness the devastation first-hand and to show solidarity with his country.
Last week, several European leaders including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson held face-to-face meetings with Mr. Zelenskyy in Kyiv. During Mr. Johnson’s visit, he pledged additional military and economic assistance, including 20 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems, and guaranteed an additional $500 million in World Bank lending to Ukraine.
Mr. Biden said Thursday that the White House is considering sending senior administration officials to Ukraine, though White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters later that there are no specific plans to do so.
“We’re still in discussion deciding this,” she told reporters aboard Air Force One. “As you know obviously we’re in contact with the Ukrainian government, with Kyiv every day, pretty regularly.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden announced an $800 million package of additional military aid for Ukraine, including heavy artillery and armored personnel carriers, as the world braces for an expected Russian assault in eastern Ukraine.
“The sooner we can provide Ukraine with the lethal aid they need to win this war, the sooner we will end the war crimes,” Mr. Daines said.