Four European leaders visited Ukraine on Thursday, denouncing the brutality of the Russian invasion in a high-profile rally of support, amid Kiev’s fears that Western determination to help the troubled country could wane as the war progresses.
The visit, which included a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, carries heavy symbolic weight, as the leaders of France, Germany and Italy have been criticized for continuing to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and Ukraine does not have the magnitude of its weapons. given it has said it is necessary to repel the Russians. The president of Romania also made the trip.
After arriving in Kiev to the sound of air raid sirens, the leaders moved to Irpin, a suburb of the capital where fierce fighting at the start of the war and many civilians were killed. They disapproved of the destruction there.
While shocking images of such devastation have garnered Western support, officials in Ukraine have expressed fears that “war fatigue” could eventually erode it — especially as rising prices and upcoming elections in the United States increasingly dominate people’s concerns.
The US and its European allies have given billions of dollars worth of weapons to Ukraine, and Germany and the US have recently announced new arms shipments. Such weapons have been key to the country’s surprising success in preventing the Russians from taking the capital, but officials in Kiev have said much more will be needed if they are to oust Moscow’s troops.
Many in Ukraine hoped the leaders’ visit could mark a turning point by paving the way for important new arms stockpiles — especially as the officials oversaw the ravages of the war. The visit also comes as EU leaders prepare to decide next week on Ukraine’s application for membership in the bloc, and ahead of a key NATO summit later this month.
Prior to meeting Mr. Zelenskyy noted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that officials should consider the horrific destruction of the scenes in all their decisions.
“Innocent civilians have been affected, houses have been destroyed; an entire city has been destroyed where there was no military infrastructure at all,” said Mr. Scholz. “And that says a lot about the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which is simply out for destruction and conquest. We have to keep that in mind in everything we decide.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said during the tour of Irpin that Ukraine’s backers will rebuild “everything” with European aid.
“They have destroyed the nurseries, the playgrounds and everything will be rebuilt,” Draghi said.
Mr Macron, Mr Scholz and Mr Draghi, who represent the three largest economies in the European Union, traveled together to Kiev in a special night train provided by the Ukrainian authorities. They have been criticized for not having visited Kiev before. A number of other European leaders have already made the long overland journey to show solidarity with a country under attack, even at a time when fighting has raged closer to the capital than it is today.
Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis — which borders Ukraine and has been a major destination for Ukrainian refugees — arrived on a separate train.
After watching Irpin, he wrote on Twitter that there are “no words to describe the unimaginable human tragedy and horrific destruction” and called for “all Russian perpetrators to be held accountable by the international criminal justice system”.
Russian forces continue their offensive in the eastern Donbas region, slowly but steadily gaining ground against the poorly manned and armed Ukrainian forces, who are calling for more weapons from Western allies.
Several air raid sirens went off as European leaders prepared in their hotel for the rest of their visit, and Kiev authorities urged people to seek shelter. Such warnings are common.
Although expectations were high for the visit, skepticism also persisted. Many leaders and ordinary people in Ukraine and the Baltic and Central European countries — which were controlled by Moscow during the Cold War — believe that Putin only understands violence, and have seen Macron and others’ attempts to keep talking to him. . Putin after his invasion as unacceptable.
Tamara Malko, a resident of the Donetsk region that is part of the Donbas, said Mr Macron and Mr Scholz had so far been “very cold” towards the Ukrainians and hoped for change.
“We really want peace … and have high hopes for Macron and Scholz,” Ms Malko said. “We want them to see and understand our pain.”
Governor Serhiy Haidai of Luhansk, which is also part of the Donbas, said the visit would bring no progress if leaders ask Ukraine to sign a peace treaty with Russia, giving up territory.
“I am sure that our president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will not make any concessions and will not trade our territories. If someone wants to stop Russia by giving them territories, Germany has Bavaria, Italy has Tuscany, the French can give in to Provence, for example,” Haidai said.
“Today it will be one area, tomorrow another, the day after tomorrow another,” he said.
In Ukraine, Macron responded to criticisms of France’s response, including his recent remark that Russia should not be “humiliated”, deeply enraging Ukrainians. He insisted that “France has been on the side of Ukraine since day one”.
His office has also released a list containing the dates of all his conversations with Mr. Zelenskyy. They have spoken by telephone 23 times since the start of the war; and Mr Macron spoke to Mr Putin 11 times, including Mr Scholz three times.
Mr Scholz had long opposed traveling to Kiev, saying he didn’t want to “join the line of people rushing in for a photo opportunity”. Instead, Mr Scholz said a trip should focus on doing “concrete things.”
Germany announced on Wednesday that it will supply Ukraine with three multiple-missile systems of the kind Kiev has said it urgently needs.
This story was reported by the Associated Press. Journalists David Keyton in Irpin, Ukraine; Srdjan Nedelikovic in Pokrovsk, Ukraine; Colleen Barry in Midland; and Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.