Angelina Jolie makes surprise visit to Lviv, Ukraine, to meet with children, refugees amid war

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There was nothing special about Maya Pidhoretska’s day as she was grabbing 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 into the Russian invasion.

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

Video posted to social media shows Jolie, an Academy Award winner who has been a 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 welcoming displaced Ukrainians arriving on an evacuation train from a city in Donetsk oblast, Jolie spent time visiting children and with volunteers at a medical facility, Lviv’s regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyi, wrote on Telegram.

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

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

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

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

“The impact the war is having 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 homes, or witness the murder of their loved ones, or experience shelling and the destruction of their homes. Yet that is the reality of so many children in Ukraine and around the world.”

Her visit to Lviv unfolded on a day in which Ukraine’s military asserted that Russian troops were “not succeeding” in plans to quickly take control of vast swaths of territory in the east. But there were still fresh missile strikes throughout the country, with Ukrainian leaders in the Black Sea port of Odessa reporting that a runway at the city’s airport had been hit and was no longer operable. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had struck 17 Ukrainian military facilities Saturday and killed more than 200 Ukrainians. Ukrainian leaders did not immediately respond.

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

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

“Like many of you, I’m praying for the people in Ukraine,” she wrote in February. “My focus along with my @refugees colleagues is that everything possible is done to ensure the protection and basic human rights of those displaced, and refugees in the region.”

She is not the first A-list celebrity to head to Ukraine during the conflict. actor and activist Sean Penn was on the ground in Ukraine filming a documentary on the invasion in late February. Penn denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for what the American filmmaker called “a most horrible mistake for all of humankind.”

Lviv, which has sustained only sporadic Russian attacks, has become a haven for civilians, diplomats, journalists and aid groups because of its relative safety 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 her video at the cafe, Pidhoretska shows a cup served at the establishment where Jolie stopped by. The cup features a drawing of a Molotov cocktail and a quote from the Ukrainian poet Ivan Franko: “The truth — serve/The untruth — 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. One video shows her playing with a young girl.

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

Pidhoretska, a Kyiv resident, summed up the feeling of pride she had in her country after seeing Jolie come 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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