Angelina Jolie pays surprise visit to Lviv, Ukraine, to meet children, refugees in mid-war

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There was nothing special about Maya Pidhoretska’s day when she grabbed coffee at a local cafe in Lviv, Ukraine. That changed, she said, when actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie made a surprise trip to the western Ukrainian city on Saturday in support of Ukraine, more than two months after the Russian invasion.

“I just went to drink coffee,” she wrote on Facebook with a video of what happened. She jokingly wrote, “Just Angelina Jolie.”

Nothing special. Only Lviv. I just went to drink coffee. Bare Angelina Jolie. Ukraine is simply supported by the whole world💙💛

Posted by Maya Pidhorodetska Saturday, April 30, 2022

Video posted on social media shows Jolie, an Oscar winner who has been the UN special envoy for refugees since 2012, signing an autograph for a fan in the city, which has been a relatively safe haven during the Russian invasion. After receiving displaced Ukrainians who arrived on an evacuation train from a town in Donetsk Oblast, Jolie spent time visiting children and with volunteers at a medical facility, Lviv Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyi wrote on Telegram.

“For all of us, this visit was a surprise,” Kozytskyi wrote. “Many people who saw Mrs Jolie in the Lviv region could not believe it was really her.”

Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told The Washington Post in an email that Jolie was not in Lviv on a business trip for the organization.

“Angelina Jolie is traveling to the region in her personal capacity, and the UNHCR has no involvement in this visit,” Ghedini-Williams wrote.

Representatives for Jolie did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday. A spokeswoman for the actress told NBC News that Jolie, who praised the country’s “resilience and courage and dignity”, was in Ukraine “to testify to the human impact of the conflict and to support the civilian population.”

“The impact the war has on a generation of Ukrainian children is devastating to see,” Jolie said in a statement to NBC. “No child anywhere should have to flee their home or witness the killing of their loved ones or experience shelling and destruction of their home. But that is the reality for so many children in Ukraine and around the world. “

Her visit to Lviv took place on a day when the Ukrainian military claimed that Russian troops were “not succeeding” with plans to quickly take control of large parts of the territory in the east. But there were still new missile attacks across the country, with Ukrainian leaders at the Black Sea port of Odessa reporting that a runway at the city’s airport had been hit and could no longer be operated. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had hit 17 Ukrainian military facilities on Saturday, killing more than 200 Ukrainians. The Ukrainian leaders did not respond immediately.

The 46-year-old star has drawn attention to other humanitarian crises since she previously visited Mosul in Iraq in 2011 and Yemen last month. Last month, she visited young Ukrainian refugees at a pediatric hospital in Rome.

Jolie has expressed her support for Ukraine since before the start of the war. She has stressed on Instagram that “children will pay the highest price” during the Russian invasion.

“Like many of you, I pray for the people of Ukraine,” she wrote in February. “My focus, together with my @ refugee colleagues, is that every effort is made to ensure the protection and fundamental human rights of the displaced and refugees in the region.”

She is not the first celebrity on the A-list to go to Ukraine during the conflict. Actor and activist Sean Penn was on the ground in Ukraine filming a documentary about the invasion in late February. Penn condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for what the American filmmaker called “an extremely horrible mistake for all of humanity.”

Lviv, which has only been subjected to sporadic Russian attacks, has become a haven for civilians, diplomats, journalists and aid groups due to its relative security and proximity to the Polish border. But the city has faced its own tragedy during the invasion. At least seven people were killed during Russian airstrikes earlier this month, according to Kozytskyi and Ukrainian officials.

At one point in his video at the cafe, Pidhoretska shows a cup served at the establishment, where Jolie looked past. The cup has a drawing of a Molotov cocktail and a quote from the Ukrainian poet Ivan Franko: “Truth – serve / Truth – burn.”

During her meeting at the medical facility, photos posted by Kozytskyi show Jolie spending time with children at a boarding school and volunteers at the medical institution. A video shows her playing with a young girl.

“She was very touched by their stories,” Kozytskyi said.

Pidhoretska, a resident of Kiev, summed up the sense of pride she had in her country after seeing Jolie come and greet those whose lives have been turned upside down.

“Ukraine is simply supported by the whole world,” Pidhoretska said.

Hannah Allam and David L. Stern contributed to this report.

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