EU leaders visit Ukraine to show support after criticism

  • Weapons needed to repel the Russian advance in the south and east
  • Ukrainian troops and civilians holed up at the Severodonetsk plant

Kyiv (Reuters) – The leaders of Germany, France and Italy – all of whom Kyiv has criticized in the past for support it deemed too cautious – held a joint visit on Thursday to express solidarity with Ukraine, with officials calling for more Western weapons. .

“It’s an important moment. It is a message of unity that we send to the Ukrainians,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after boarding a night train in Kyiv with German Olaf Schultz and Italy’s Mario Draghi. They were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

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.

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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.

“Every day, I fight for Ukraine to get the weapons and equipment it needs,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address to the nation.

Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv as European leaders began to visit. They toured Irbin, a town northeast of the capital devastated early in the war as retreating Russian forces left corpses strewn in the streets.

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.”

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The visit took weeks to organize as the EU’s three most powerful leaders fended off criticism over attitudes that have been described as too condescending to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, the three’s move to travel together bears powerful symbolism at a pivotal moment – a day before the EU’s Executive Committee is expected to recommend moving forward with Ukraine’s bid to join the bloc, which EU leaders are expected to approve at the upcoming summit. week.

NATO defense ministers are also meeting in Brussels, and they are expected to announce more weapons promises to Kiev. US President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged $1 billion in new aid, including anti-ship missile systems, artillery rockets and howitzers.

Save Mr Putin’s face

Schulz, Macron and Draghi say they are staunch supporters of Ukraine who have taken major 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 territory.

“They will say that we need to end the war that causes food problems and economic problems … and that we need to save Putin’s face,” Oleksiy Aristovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told Germany’s Bild newspaper beforehand. visit.

Ukraine is causing hundreds of casualties every day as the war enters a brutal attrition phase in the east. Kyiv says it urgently needs more weapons, especially artillery and missiles, to counter Russia’s firepower advantage.

After Moscow launched its “special military operation” claiming its goal was to disarm and “discredit” its neighbor, Ukraine repulsed an armored attack on Kyiv in March.

Since then, Russia has changed its goals and tactics, and is now trying to capture more territory in the east while advancing behind intense artillery bombardment, and strengthening its hold on the captured lands in the south.

The main battle has erupted in recent weeks around the eastern city of Severodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces are now holed up in a chemical plant housing hundreds of civilians. They ignored the Russian order to surrender on Wednesday.

“There were battles during the night. Our men are on the line of defense. Every day it becomes more and more difficult because the Russians are pulling more and more weapons into the city, trying to storm it from several directions,” said the mayor of Severodonetsk. Oleksandr Streuk said Thursday.

All remaining bridges connecting the city to Ukraine-controlled territory on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets have been destroyed in recent days, but Ukrainian officials say the garrison is still not completely isolated.

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An airstrike on Thursday hit a building housing civilians in Lysichansk, across the river, killing at least three and wounding at least seven, according to local governor Serhiy Gaidai.

“We are dismantling the rubble,” Gaidai said on Telegram.

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 on Twitter that he had visited an area only 3-4 kilometers 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. .

The war disrupted the global economy and soared food and energy prices. Despite the sanctions, Europe is still dependent on Russia for natural gas.

Deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany have plummeted in recent days, raising concerns about storing supplies for the winter, with Moscow blaming sanctions that have halted deliveries of equipment sent abroad for repairs.

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Additional reporting by Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graf, Editing by Angus McSwan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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