EU leaders denounce Russian brutality during visit to Ukraine – News-Herald

By DAVID KEYTON, JOHN LEICESTER and SYLVIE CORBET

IRPIN, Ukraine – Four European leaders paid a high-level visit on Thursday to show their support for Ukraine, denouncing the brutality of the Russian invasion as they examined the ruins of a Kyiv suburb that was the scene intense fighting at the start of the war and where many civilians were killed.

After arriving in Kyiv to the sound of air raid sirens, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania headed for Irpin, which was seized and briefly detained by Russian troops as well than other areas close to the capital. Mass graves have been discovered in the region, including in Bucha, and French President Emmanuel Macron has denounced the massacres and said there were signs of war crimes.

He denounced the “barbarity” of the attacks that devastated Irpin and praised the courage of its inhabitants and other inhabitants of the region who helped to thwart Russia’s attempt to invade the capital.

The visit, which included a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, carries significant symbolic weight as the three Western European powers have been criticized for continuing to engage Russian President Vladimir Putin – and for failing to provide Ukraine the scale of weaponry it said would be needed to repel the Russians.

Western weapons were key to Ukraine’s surprising success in stopping the Russians from taking the capital – but officials said it would take a lot more to drive the forces out of Moscow.

The leaders were also criticized for not visiting Kyiv earlier. A number of other European leaders have already made the long journey overland to show their solidarity with a nation under attack, even at a time when fighting raged closer to the capital than it does today.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Thursday to consider additional military aid to Ukraine, and many in Ukraine hoped the leaders’ visit could mark a turning point, paving the way for important new arms supplies – especially as officials surveyed the devastation of war. .

Before the meeting with Zelenskyy, the leader, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, observed that officials must keep destruction in mind in all their decisions.

“Innocent civilians were hit, houses were destroyed; an entire city was destroyed in which there was no military infrastructure,” Scholz said. “And that says a lot about the brutality of the Russian aggressive war, which is simply meant 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 supporters would rebuild “everything” with European help.

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

Macron, Scholz and Draghi, representing Europe’s three largest economies, traveled together to Kyiv on a special overnight train provided by Ukrainian authorities.

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

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

Russian forces continue their offensive in the eastern region of Donbass, slowly but surely gaining ground on undermanned and underarmed Ukrainian forces, which are demanding more weapons from Western allies.

Several air raid sirens sounded as European leaders were at their hotel to prepare for the rest of their visit, and authorities in Kyiv urged people to take shelter. Such alerts are frequent.

Many leaders and ordinary citizens, not only in Ukraine, but also in the Baltic and Central European countries, which were controlled by Moscow during the Cold War, believe that Putin only understands force and have seen the efforts of Macron and others to continue to speak to Putin after his invasion as unacceptable.

Tamara Malko, a resident of the Donetsk region which is part of Donbass, said Macron and Scholz had been “very cold” towards Ukrainians so far and hoped for change.

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

Governor Serhiy Haidai of Luhansk, which is also part of Donbass, said the visit would yield nothing if the leaders asked Ukraine to sign a peace treaty with Russia that involves giving up territory. He said this is something Ukrainians would never accept.

“I am sure that our president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is not going to make concessions and exchange our territories. If someone wants to stop Russia by giving them territories, Germany has Bavaria, Italy has Tuscany, the French can concede Provence, for example,” he said.

“Today it will be one territory, tomorrow another, the day after tomorrow another,” he said.

The visit comes as EU leaders prepare to take a decision on June 23-24 on Ukraine’s application to become a candidate for EU membership, and ahead of an important NATO summit June 29 and 30 in Madrid.

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 at Ukraine’s side since day one”.

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

Macron is involved in diplomatic efforts to push for a ceasefire in Ukraine that would allow for future peace negotiations. He has frequent discussions with Zelenskyy and has spoken on the phone several times with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Putin launched the invasion in late February.

Scholz had long resisted traveling to Kyiv, saying he didn’t want to “join the queue of people making a quick entry for a photo op”. Instead, Scholz said a trip should focus on “hard things.”

Germany announced on Wednesday that it would supply Ukraine with three multiple rocket launcher systems of the type that Kyiv has said it urgently needs.

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Leicester reported from Kyiv, Ukraine and Corbet from Paris. Srdjan Nedelikovic in Pokrovsk, Ukraine, Colleen Barry in Milan and Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Christi C. Elwood