US Secretary of State Antony Blinken commended the Ukrainian counteroffensive during an unannounced trip to Kyiv Thursday, saying the effort to regain control of Russian-held areas of the country was “proving effective.”
“It’s very early, but we’re seeing clear and real progress on the ground, particularly in the area around Kherson, but also some interesting developments in the Donbass, in the east,” the top US diplomat told press before departing Kyiv by train.
Blinken’s visit to the Ukrainian capital – his second since the war with Russia began more than six months ago – coincided with the announcement of an additional $625 million tranche of security assistance to support Ukraine, as well as an intended $2.2 billion in long-term investments to bolster the security of Ukraine and 18 other regional countries.
In a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Blinken credited the success of the counteroffensive to the “incredible bravery, resilience of Ukrainians,” saying that “fundamentally, what this comes down, I think the reason for this success is this is your homeland, not Russia’s. And it’s as basic as that.”
In separate remarks at Ramstein Air Base in Germany following a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley described the progress of tUkrainian forces near Kherson as “steady” and “deliberate.”
“They’re continuing the fight. They’ve got the forces to do it, and we’ll see how this plays out,” Milley said.
Blinken told the Ukrainian President the United States is “so pleased to have been able to support your efforts,” and later noted that the US was providing Ukraine with “very precise weapons … that allow them with one shot to do what the Russians may try to do with 15 or 20 shots.”
“We are determined to make sure that they have what they need,” he told the press.
Blinken said spent about two hours with the President and his team, and called it a “very productive and in many ways meaningful day.”
In addition to meeting with Zelensky, Blinken also met with his counterpart, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, visited the US Embassy, and toured a children’s hospital and a war-torn suburb of Kyiv.
He saw first-hand the devastation wrought from the Russian occupation, which was left in ruins when Ukrainian forces regained control in late March.
“I was able to bear witness to horrific attacks on houses, on buildings, clearly belonging to civilians, where the shelling, the missiles, the bullets, it’s all there. And at best, it’s indiscriminate. At worst, it’s intentional,” Blinken told reporters. “And I was able to talk to people doing remarkable work in compiling evidence of war crimes and atrocities and also those responsible for the city who are working to rebuild it.”
During his Thursday trip, Blinken, accompanied by US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, visited the National Children’s Specialized Hospital Ohmatdyt in Kyiv and met with children who were being treated there – including some injured in the war. He also met Patron, the mine-sniffing dog who has gained international renown.
Blinken presented the Jack Russell terrier with dog treats, quipping that “since he’s already received a number of medals and awards, I thought he’d actually prefer something a more usable.” He posed for photos in the lobby with the vest-clad pup, who accompanied him as he toured the hospital.
“We have a long history of working on de-mining,” Blinken said. “We’re honored to be working with you on that.”
The top US diplomat met several children being treated at the hospital, including a 6-year-old, Maryna, who lost part of her leg and has been in the hospital since May after being injured in Kherson and 13-year-old Kateryna who was injured in the Kramatorsk rail station attack in early April and whose mother was killed.
“We so admire the courage, the spirit of your children. It sends a very strong message all around the world,” Blinken told the room. “And it’s an honor for me to meet you, to meet them, and to see the wonderful work that the doctors, the Minister, the Ronald McDonald House, everyone is doing. We’re just happy to be able to help and to be a friend and a partner.”
Both Austin and Blinken visited Ukraine in late April. They remain the highest level US officials to have traveled to the country since the war began in late February. Multiple heads of state have gone to Ukraine to meet with Zelensky. US President Joe Biden has yet to travel there, though the two leaders spoke by phone in recent weeks.
According to the State Department, Blinken also briefly went into Ukraine when he met on the border with Kuleba in March.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Ellie Kaufman, Michael Conte and Christian Sierra contributed to this report.