European leaders visit Ukraine, pin their hopes on EU membership

  • Zelensky thanks EU leaders for solidarity visit
  • Commanders roam the devastated city of Irbin
  • Fighting rages in Severodonetsk and southern Ukraine

Kyiv/IRBIN, Ukraine (Reuters) – The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, all of whom Kyiv has criticized in the past for their support they view as too cautious, visited Ukraine on Thursday and hoped to join the European Union for a country that begs it. To get weapons to repel the Russian invasion.

Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv as French President Emmanuel Macron, German Olaf Schulz and Italy’s Mario Draghi began a visit, as leaders toured a nearby town devastated early in the war. Read more

After holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the leaders indicated that Ukraine should be granted EU candidate status, a symbolic gesture that would bring Kyiv closer to the economic bloc.

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Schulz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees who had fled the conflict and would continue to support Ukraine as long as needed.

“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” he said.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their forces were holding out in the face of intense Russian bombing of the eastern city of Severodonetsk, and described new progress in a counterattack in the south.

But they said battles on the two main fronts depended on receiving more help from the West, especially artillery, to counter Russia’s great advantage in firepower.

“We appreciate the support already provided by the partners, and we expect the delivery of new shipments, mainly heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery and anti-missile defense systems,” Zelensky said after talks with his European counterparts.

“There is a direct relationship: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster our people and our land will be liberated,” he said.

Macron said France would step up arms shipments to Kyiv, while NATO defense ministers in Brussels pledged more arms to Ukraine as they plan to bolster the eastern flank of the US-led military alliance.

“This will mean more deployed combat formations for NATO…more air, sea and cyber defenses as well as pre-existing stockpiles of equipment and weapons,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“Make Europe not war”

The visit of the three most powerful leaders in the European Union to Ukraine took weeks to organize as they fended off criticism over attitudes described as too condescending to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The leaders, joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irbin, shortly after the invasion began on February 24.

Referring to graffiti on the wall reading “Make Europe, not war,” Macron said: “It is very moving to see that. This is the right message.”

Schulz, Macron and Draghi say they are staunch supporters of Ukraine who have taken practical steps to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticized Schulze over what it sees as Germany’s slow delivery of arms and its reluctance to cut economic ties with Moscow, and this month drew ire from Macron for saying in an interview that Russia should not be “humiliated”.

Italy has also proposed a peace plan that the Ukrainians fear will pressure them to give up their lands. After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said that some kind of communication channel with Putin was still needed.

While Europe’s leaders have tried to show solidarity with Ukraine, the continent’s dependence on Russia for much of its energy supplies has been exposed, as gas shipments through a major pipeline have plummeted in recent days. Read more

Meanwhile, a shortage of grain shipments from Ukraine has led to the emergence of a global food crisis.

Russia blames sanctions in both countries, while Italy’s Draghi said Moscow is “politically profiting” from the situation.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Victoria Abramchenko, said in an interview with Reuters that Moscow is facilitating the export of grain and oilseeds through Russian-controlled transit points on the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAzov, without clarifying who was providing the foodstuffs for export. Read more

ghost villages

Ukraine claims hundreds of casualties every day as the war enters a brutal attrition phase in the east.

The main battle has erupted in recent weeks around the eastern city of Severodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces are holed up in a chemical plant with hundreds of civilians.

“Every day it becomes more difficult because the Russians are withdrawing more and more weapons into the city,” Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on Thursday.

District Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Thursday an airstrike hit a building housing civilians in Yesichansk across the river, killing at least four and wounding seven.

In the south, Ukraine says its forces are making their way into the Kherson region, which Russia occupied early in its invasion. There have been few independent reports to confirm the battle locations in the area.

Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andrei Yermak, wrote in a tweet that he had visited an area about 3 to 4 kilometers (about 2 miles) from the Russian positions, where dozens of “ghost villages” had been evacuated due to the fighting.

“Our men are on the ground – the mood is fighting. Even with limited resources, we are repelling the enemy. One thing is missing – long-range weapons. In any case, we will drive them out of the south,” he wrote. .

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Additional reporting by Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graf, Toby Chopra and Ramy Ayoub. Editing by Angus McSwan, Alex Richardson and Rosalba O’Brien

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