French, German and Italian leaders pledge EU arms and path for Ukraine to visit Kyiv

Leaders of four European Union nations visited Ukraine on Thursday, pledging support for Kyiv’s candidacy to become an official candidate to join the bloc in a show of high-profile support in the country to prevent an invasion Russian. French President Emmanuel Macron also pledged to Ukraine. six more powerful artillery guns mounted on trucks, the latest in a new round of Western arms promises for Ukraine as war continues in the eastern Donbas region.

The leaders “do everything so that only Ukraine can decide its fate,” Macron told a news conference.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis meet for a working session at the Mariyinsky Palace in Kyiv. (AP) Faced with Kyiv’s fears that the Western decision to help him could be dampened, the visit of Macron and the leaders of Germany, Italy and Romania had great symbolic weight. The three Western European powers have faced criticism for continuing to liaise with Russian President Vladimir Putin for failing to provide Ukraine with the scale of arms it has said is needed to defend the Russians. The President of Romania also made the trip.

Arriving in Kyiv at the sound of sirens of airstrikes, the leaders headed to Irpin, a suburb of the capital that was the scene of intense fighting at the beginning of the war and where many civilians were killed. They denounced the destruction there.

While shocking images of this devastation have garnered Western support, Ukrainian officials have expressed fears that “war fatigue” could erode it, especially as rising prices and the coming elections in the United States increasingly dominate people’s concerns.

The United States and its European allies have given billions of dollars in arms to Ukraine, and Germany and the United States have recently announced new arms shipments. These weapons have been key to the country’s astonishing success in preventing the Russians from taking the capital, but Kyiv officials have said much more will be needed if they want to expel Moscow’s forces.

Many in Ukraine hoped that the visit of the leaders could mark a turning point paving the way for significant new arms supplies and also comes as EU leaders prepare to make a decision next week on the request for Ukraine to become a candidate for membership in the bloc.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron in Kyiv in a show of European collective support for the Ukrainian people. (AP)

European allies have sent increasingly muscular weapons and concentrated around Ukraine more than many expected, approving wave after wave of unprecedented sanctions against Russia that are squeezing the European economy hard.

But Ukrainians say more is needed as Russian forces push their offensive in the eastern Donbas region, slowly but steadily gaining ground over poorly equipped and outnumbered Ukrainian forces.

While expectations for the visit were high, there was also skepticism.

Governor Serhiy Haidai of Luhansk, who is also part of the Donbas, said the visit would not make progress if leaders call on Ukraine to sign a peace treaty with Russia that involves renouncing the territory.

“I am sure that our president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will not make concessions and trade with our territories. If someone wants to stop Russia by giving them territories, Germany has Bavaria, Italy has Tuscany, the French can grant Provence, for example.” He said.

“Today will be one territory, tomorrow another, tomorrow another,” he said.

While visiting Irpin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz noted that officials must take into account the destruction of horrific scenes in all their decisions.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visit Irpin, Ukraine. (AP)

“Innocent civilians have been beaten, houses have been destroyed; an entire city with no military infrastructure has been destroyed,” Scholz said. “And that says a lot about the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which is simply ready for destruction and conquest. We have to keep that in mind in everything we decide.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said during Irpin’s tour that Ukraine’s supporters will rebuild “everything” with European aid.

“They destroyed the nurseries, the playgrounds and everything will be rebuilt,” Draghi said.

Macron, Scholz and Draghi, who represent the three largest economies in the European Union, traveled together to Kyiv on a special night train provided by the Ukrainian authorities. They have been criticized for not visiting Kyiv before. Other European leaders have already made the long journey by land to show solidarity with an attacked nation, even at a time when fighting was moving closer to the capital than it is now.

President Klaus Iohannis of Romania, which borders Ukraine and has been a key destination for Ukrainian refugees, arrived on a separate train.

Children receive classes in explosives in Ukraine

After seeing Irpin, he wrote on Twitter that “there are no words to describe unimaginable human tragedy and horrific destruction” and called for “all Russian perpetrators to be held accountable for the international criminal justice system.”

Several sirens of the airstrikes sounded as European leaders were at their hotel preparing for the rest of their visit, and Kyiv authorities urged people to seek refuge. These alerts are frequent.

In Ukraine, Macron responded to criticism of France’s response, including his recent comment that Russia should not be “humiliated,” which deeply angered Ukrainians. He insisted that “France has been on Ukraine’s side since day one.”

French President Emmanuel Macron in the center, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the right, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi are traveling on a train bound for Kyiv. (AP)

His office also published a list of the dates of all his conversations with Zelenskyy. They have spoken on the phone 23 times since the war began; and Macron spoke with Putin 11 times, including three times with Scholz.

Scholz had long been reluctant to travel to Kyiv, saying he did not want to “join the queue of people making a quick entry for a photo opportunity.” Instead, Scholz said a trip should focus on doing “concrete things.”

Germany announced on Wednesday that it would provide Ukraine with three multi-rocket launch systems of the type Kyiv has said it urgently needs.

Tamara Malko, a resident of the Donetsk region that is part of the Donbas, said Macron and Scholz had been “very cold” so far with the Ukrainians and expected change.

“We really want peace … and we have high hopes for Macron and Scholz,” he said. “We want them to see and understand our pain.”

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