US President Joe Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and the situation in Ukraine were the focal points of conversation at a small private event hosted by disability rights advocate Janni Lehrer-Stein, on March 5, at San Francisco’s affluent Pacific Heights.

Attended by 25 close aides, the do was a Democratic Party fundraiser. Ajay Bhutoria, South Asian community leader and national finance committee member of the Democratic Party, spoke to Indica.

Bhutoria did not mention much but said how First Lady Jill Biden tried to lighten the apparently tense atmosphere at the do, courtesy of the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war. Right from the start, she approached the subject, well-aware that will be asked questions on the issue. “What’s on everybody’s mind…the war in Ukraine,” was her opening remark.

With attendees naturally curious about the US President’s plan on the subject, the First Lady kept it light, explaining how “the phone just never stops ringing”, offering some insight into the chaotic situation at the White House as Russian forces advance closer towards Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, “And Joe is up, trying to help solve this crisis.”

“We don’t know where it’s going to go. We just don’t know,” she said of the conflict. “And we’re all just holding our breath, aren’t we? That something, some answer will come so that we don’t get into this world war.”

“I just have to turn on the TV every morning and pray that (Ukraine President) Zelensky is still alive,” she said.

She was not sure what shape this ongoing war between the two countries would take and whether the United States, providing billions of dollars’ worth of humanitarian and military aid to the country, would ensure Ukraine’s independence or lead to another world war.

On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale land, sea, and air invasion of Ukraine, leading to hundreds of deaths and rendering thousands homeless. President Biden has called this attack “unjustified” and issued severe sanctions against Russia.

Major businesses have cut ties with Russia, including VISA and MasterCard; Russian banks have been banned from accessing international financial transaction system SWIFT, and the Russian ruble and stock market continues to crash. Many other Western nations have halted any interaction with Russia, including banning Russian athletes from globally important sports tournaments.

“We spoke on the Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) initiative and the Indian American community, her strong support throughout the campaign, and she remembered that,” Bhutoria said of Jill Biden. “She had been very focused on the free community college initiative when she was the Second Lady, but this administration is taking a different route, zeroing in on ‘workforce skill development’ – a system where the training gets you ready to join a job, directly.”

[Photo courtesy:Ajay Bhutoria]