Germany, France, Italy bring hope to Kyiv in the EU
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Germany, France, Italy bring hope to Kyiv in the EU

The leaders of Germany, France, and Italy – all of whom have been criticized in the past by Ukraine for their support which was deemed too cautious – have visited Kyiv and offered hopes of European Union membership to a country advocating for arms to repel a Russian invasion.

Air raid sirens blared in Kyiv as the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, and Italy’s Mario Draghi began, with leaders touring nearby cities destroyed early in the war.

Germany, France, Italy bring hope to Kyiv in the EU

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

Scholz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees who had fled the conflict and would continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

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

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their forces were still holding out against massive Russian bombing raids in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk and described new progress in a counter-offensive in the south.

But they said fighting on both fronts depended on receiving more foreign aid, especially artillery, to counter Russia’s large firepower advantage.

“We appreciate the support already provided by partners; we expect new supplies, mainly heavy weapons, modern missile artillery, anti-missile systems,” Zelenskiy said after talks with his European counterparts.

“There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our country,” he said.

Macron said France would step up arms supplies to Ukraine, while NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels would also pledge more weapons.

As European leaders tried to show solidarity with Ukraine, the continent’s reliance on Russia for much of its energy supply was exposed with gas deliveries via a major pipeline that has fallen in recent days.

Russia blamed sanctions for blocking supplies of equipment sent abroad for repairs, but Germany and Italy rejected Russia’s explanation of the shortage, raising concerns about supplies before the winter.

“(We) believe these are lies. In reality, they are using gas politically as if they are using grain for political use,” said Italy’s Draghi.

Russia says grain shipments are being choked by sanctions and mines laid by Ukraine and denies responsibility for an emerging global food crisis.

The visit to Ukraine by the three most powerful EU leaders had taken weeks to organize, all of them deflecting criticism of positions described as being too deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Critics compared Macron and Scholz to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv more than two months ago.

The leaders, accompanied by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irpin, a town northeast of the capital that was destroyed shortly after the invasion began on February 24, where retreating Russian troops left bodies lying in the streets.

After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said some sort of channel of communication with Putin was still needed.

The main battle of recent weeks has been over the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where Ukrainian troops are entrenched in a chemical factory containing hundreds of civilians.

“Every day it gets more difficult as the Russians pull more and more weapons into the city and try to storm it from different directions,” Sievierodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on Thursday.

An airstrike on Thursday struck a building housing civilians in Lysychansk across the river, killing at least three and injuring at least seven, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

In the south, Ukraine says its forces have penetrated Kherson province, which Russia occupied early in its invasion.

There has been little independent reporting to confirm battlefield positions in the area.