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Jill Biden tours Romanian school that brought in Ukrainian refugees

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Eastern Europe, where first lady Jill Biden is in the middle of a four day trip to Romania and Slovakia, two NATO allies that border Ukraine. It's the most high-profile trip of Biden's time as first lady, and she spent the day meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Bucharest, Romania's capital. NPR's Scott Detrow is traveling with the first lady, and he's with us now from Bratislava, Slovakia, where they just landed. Scott, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Michel. Always good to talk to you.

MARTIN: You know, I'm excited to report that I understand that one of the people the first lady met today in Romania was a woman that we spoke with when we were reporting from Bucharest just a few weeks ago. And I hope people remember Anastasiia Konovalova.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANASTASIIA KONOVALOVA: We came three weeks ago, and it was still a horrible mess at the border. And I think subconsciously we already knew we were opening a school because we brought math books. I brought one sweater and a big box of math books.

MARTIN: So today, she met with the first lady. Tell us about it.

DETROW: Yeah, as most people probably know, Jill Biden is a teacher. In fact, she's kept her full-time job teaching at a Virginia community college. And the first lady of Romania, Carmen Iohannis, is also a teacher. So they toured a school in Bucharest together. It's a school that's brought Ukrainian refugee students in. And they met with students in classrooms. They also had a roundtable with teachers working with Ukrainian children and Anastasiia was part of it. She sat two seats over from Biden, and she told her a lot of the same story that she told you a few weeks ago. And afterwards, Biden told us she was really moved by that story.

JILL BIDEN: As a teacher, I so appreciated what that one teacher did by saying, I'm a teacher? We're going to you know, we're going to organize this. We're going to get it together. And I think, you know, really, in a lot of ways, the teachers are the glue that helps these kids deal with their trauma and deal with the emotions and help give them a sense of normalcy.

DETROW: And several of the teachers that Dr. Biden saw today are refugees themselves. And so many of them said the same thing, that this helps children acclimate. And it also provides stability and a little bit of normalcy right now.

MARTIN: Well, so tell me, what other moments stood out to you today?

DETROW: There was one moment in the first classroom that Biden visited. It was younger kids, 5 to 7-year-olds. They were doing an arts and crafts project where they were cutting - they were using their hands to cut out hands of Ukrainian or Romanian flags. Then they were taping them together to make butterflies and then writing messages on them. And Biden was talking to a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl named Mila (ph), and she brought Mila over to the press, basically right in front of my microphone.

BIDEN: You want to hear her message? Tell them your message.

MILA: (Through interpreter) I want to return to my father.

DETROW: And it's just a reminder that, you know, most Ukrainian men are not allowed to leave the country right now in case the military needs them. So many of these refugees are women and children. In fact, the U.N. estimates about a third of the refugees in Romania right now are Ukrainian children.

MARTIN: So remind us of what the broader context of the visit is.

DETROW: Well, the U.S. has supported Ukraine, of course, since the war began. But you've seen this this gradual increase in just how overt that support has become, especially military support. And the U.S. and other NATO allies have increased the amount and the firepower of the military support that they're providing. And at this moment, the first lady is the latest in a long line of high-profile U.S. officials to come to Eastern Europe to show support for Ukraine and support for the allies doing the bulk of the work taking in and helping refugees like Romania and Slovakia. So tomorrow, Biden will be in eastern Slovakia, touring the Ukraine-Slovakia border. And she's also going to be making the point to meet with Ukrainian mothers on Mother's Day.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Scott Detrow. He's joining us from Bratislava, Slovakia, where he is traveling with first lady Jill Biden. Scott, thank you so much.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.