By Tom Balmforth and Steve Holland
KYIV/WASHINGTON (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to travel to Washington, meet with President Joe Biden and visit Congress on Wednesday, sources familiar with the matter said, in his first foreign trip since the February 24 Russian invasion.
The two leaders were expected to meet at the White House, a source said. Zelenskiy’s visit would coincide with Biden’s intention to send Patriot missiles to the Kiev government, CNN reported, to protect it from heavy Russian bombing.
CNN also reported, citing two sources, that Zelenskiy was already on his way to Washington.
Zelenskiy’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The president left Ukraine for the last time for the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, according to his official schedule.
His overseas trip 10 months into the war was expected to include a visit to lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol, a source familiar with the planning said Tuesday.
The trip has not been confirmed and safety concerns may force plans to change, the source said.
The office of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, Pelosi said in a letter that there will be a session of Congress Wednesday night that will have “a very special focus on democracy.”
Zelenskiy made a surprise trip to the Eastern Front town of Bakhmut, his office said on Tuesday, underscoring Russia’s tentative but persistent attempts to capture it.
In his nightly speech video, he characterized the visit as a trip to “Bakhmut Fortress” in Donetsk, a province claimed by Russia in September but most countries reject as an illegal occupation.
Dressed in combat khaki, Zelenskiy handed out medals to soldiers in a ruined industrial complex to thunderous applause, video released from his office showed.
Conversely, Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded medals inside the Kremlin to Russian-appointed leaders of four regions of Ukraine that Moscow has said it has annexed since it invaded its neighbor.
Video footage released earlier on Ukrinform TV, part of Ukraine’s state news agency, showed servicemen in Bakhmut handing Zelenskiy a Ukrainian flag with their signatures on it.
“We will deliver it to Congress and the US president from the boys,” Zelenskiy said in the video, without giving further details. “We’re grateful for the support. But it’s not enough,” she added.
He urged troops to keep morale up as the battle for Bakhmut, which has come to symbolize the war’s harrowing brutality, enters its fifth month.
“The East is resisting because Bakhmut is fighting. In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is being defended here for all of us,” Zelenskiy wrote on messaging app Telegram.
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Zelenskiy repeated calls for the West for more weapons, including air defense systems, after Russian drones struck energy targets in a third attack on power plants in six days.
Washington is close to finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, sources said, but the Kremlin has warned that US-supplied equipment would be a legitimate target for Russian attacks on Ukraine.
The US Senate has advanced a government funding bill that includes $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies. The money would be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as to resupply US equipment sent to the Kiev government.
The World Bank said on Tuesday it had approved an additional financing package totaling $610 million to address urgent relief and recovery needs in Ukraine.
Kiev said it needed Western help to bolster its air defenses as Russian attacks have repeatedly cut off electricity and water supplies amid sub-zero winter temperatures.
Ukrainian officials say the missiles and shelling of Moscow are intended to break civilians’ will to resist.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukrainians should prepare for new Russian attacks on energy infrastructure because Moscow wanted them to spend Christmas and New Year in darkness.
Electricity supplier YASNO, which covers the area of the capital Kiev, offered no immediate respite to residents.
“We’re not even counting on a return to scheduled disconnections,” YASNO chief executive Sergey Kovalenko said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
(Reporting by the RockedBuzz via Reuters Offices; Writing by Grant McCool and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates)