Tue. May 28th, 2024

Secretary of State Antony Blinken followed up a pledge to support Ukraine in its war against Russia by playing a cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World” in a basement bar just off Kyiv’s main strip.

Dressed in a black shirt and faded jeans and strapping on an electric guitar, the top US diplomat launched into Neil Young’s hit anthem. He was backed by a local jazz-punk band after a short speech expressing empathy with Ukrainians facing a new Russian onslaught in the northeast of the country. 

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“I know this is a really, really difficult time,” Blinken told the crowd of Ukrainians and Americans who descended on BarmanDictat, or the barman’s dictatorship, after being tipped off about the 8:30 p.m. gig on Tuesday. “Your soldiers, your citizens in the northeast in Kharkiv are suffering tremendously.”

For the secretary, the one-song gig capped a full day of meetings, including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and a speech to students with a message that Ukraine is not alone. 

The two-day visit to Kyiv is the first by a senior US administration official since Congress approved a $61 billion military aid package after months of delay, which left Ukrainian troops outgunned and stretched on the battlefield.

Blinken’s performance triggered mixed feelings in Kyiv as some Ukrainians, including former Economy Minister Tymofiy Mylovanov, expressed a preference for action in delivering more weapons over hollow words of support. 

Zelenskiy on Tuesday pleaded with the secretary of state for two Patriot air-defense batteries to provide air cover for Kharkiv as it suffers from months of relentless bombardment and as Russia opened a new front north of Ukraine’s second largest city. The Biden administration is working to send an additional Patriot battery, people familiar with the matter said.

The troops defending Kharkiv region “need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you so much, the world is with you,” Blinken told the crowd in the bar in central Kyiv. “And they are fighting, not just for a free Ukraine but for the free world and the free world is with you too.”

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