A pair of Republican lawmakers traveled to Kyiv on Thursday, making them the first U.S. officials known to have visited Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February.
Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who shared photos of the trip, and Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana visited the Kyiv suburbs and mass graves in nearby Bucha. Daines said the world needed to see what Russian President Vladimir Putin had done.
“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,” Daines said in a statement. “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 bodies of 410 civilians were removed from Bucha and other suburbs in the aftermath of Russia’s destruction, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova, said this month.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Russian atrocities in Ukraine amounted to “genocide,” the first time he has leveled the accusation against Putin.
Daines said he was invited to meet with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv and Bucha after he met with leaders in NATO countries bordering Ukraine. Late last month, he joined a bipartisan congressional delegation that visited Poland and Germany.
Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress, recently sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to redeploy U.S. diplomats to Lviv to help with coordination in Ukraine.
“We must be engaged to stop this atrocity and bring back peace and order to the European content,” she wrote.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters at a briefing Thursday that the agency is “constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the safety and the security situation,” saying the goal is to re-establish a U.S. diplomatic presence as soon as it is “safe and practical” to do so.
He argued that the lack of U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground “has in no way hampered our ability to coordinate and to consult with our Ukrainian partners.”
Zoë Richards is the evening politics reporter for NBC News.