The leaders promised arms and EU access for Ukraine to Kyiv visit

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Leaders of four European Union countries visited Ukraine on Thursday, vowing to support Kyiv’s offer to be the official candidate to join the bloc in a high -profile show of support. for the country that prevented the invasion of Russia..

French President Emmanuel Macron has also promised Ukraine six more powerful truck-mounted artillery guns, the latest in a new round of Western arms pledges for Ukraine during the war. continued in the eastern region of the Donbas.

The leaders “are doing everything so that only Ukraine can decide its fate,” Macron said at a news conference.

In the face of Kyiv’s fears that the West’s determination to help it may wane, the visit of Macron and the leaders of Germany, Italy and Romania carried heavy symbolic weight. The three Western European powers face criticism for continuing to ally with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and failing to provide Ukraine with the amount of arms it says it needs to curb the Russians. The president of Romania also made the trip.

After arriving in Kyiv at the sound of the air raid siren, the leaders headed for Irpin, a suburb of the capital that was the scene of intense fighting early in the war and where many civilians died. They condemned the destruction there.

While shocking images of the devastation have garnered Western support, Ukrainian officials have expressed fears that “war fatigue” eventually that will disappear – especially as rising prices and upcoming U.S. elections increasingly dominate people’s concerns.

The U.S. and its allies in Europe have supplied billions of dollars of arms to Ukraine, and Germany and the U.S. have recently announced new arms shipments.. Such weapons have been key to the country’s surprising success in preventing Russians from taking capital, but Kyiv officials say much more is needed if they are to oust Moscow forces.

Many in Ukraine are hoping that the leaders ’visit could mark a turning point by paving the way for significant new arms supplies and it will also come as EU leaders prepare to make a decision next week on Ukraine’s request to become a candidate for bloc membership.

Europe’s allies sent more muscular weapons and rallied around Ukraine more than many expected, approving a series of waves of unprecedented sanctions against Russia that were severe. squeezing the European economy.

But Ukrainians say much more is needed as Russian forces push their offensive into the eastern Donbas region, slowly but steadily gaining ground in poorly outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces. .

While there is great hope for the visit, there is also skepticism.

Gov. Serhiy Haidai of Luhansk, who is also part of the Donbas, said the visit would not bring progress if the leaders asked Ukraine to sign a peace agreement with Russia that included giving up the territory.

“I am sure that our president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will not make concessions and sell our territories. If anyone wants to restrain Russia by giving them territories, Germany has Bavaria, Italy has Tuscany, for example the The French may agree with Provence, ”he said.

“Today it’s one territory, tomorrow another, tomorrow another,” he said.

While visiting Irpin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz observed that officials had to keep in mind the horrific scenes of devastation in all their decisions.

“Innocent civilians were hit, houses were destroyed; an entire town was destroyed where there was no military infrastructure, ”Scholz said. “And that’s a lot to say about the brutality of Russia’s war of aggression, which is only for destruction and occupation. We have to keep that in mind in all our decisions.”

Italian Premier Mario Draghi said during the tour in Irpin that Ukrainian supporters would rebuild “everything” with the help of Europe.

“They destroyed the nurseries, the playgrounds, and everything was rebuilt,” Draghi said.

Macron, Scholz and Draghi, who represent the three largest economies in the European Union, traveled to Kyiv on a special all -night train provided by the Ukrainian authorities. They were criticized for not visiting Kyiv earlier. Many other European leaders have already made the long journey of the land to show solidarity in an under attack, even in times when the conflict is closer to the capital than it is today.

President Klaus Iohannis of Romania – which borders Ukraine and has become an important destination for refugees in Ukraine – 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 culprits to be held accountable in the international system. criminal justice ”.

Several air attack sirens sounded as European leaders were at their hotel preparing for the rest of their visit, and Kyiv authorities urged people to seek shelter. Such alerts always happen.

In Ukraine, Macron responded to criticism of France’s response, including his recent comment that Russia should not be “disgraced,” which has greatly angered Ukrainians. He insisted that “France has been on 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 war began; and Macron spoke to Putin 11 times, including three times to Scholz.

Scholz has long refused to travel to Kyiv, saying he doesn’t want to “join some of the people who are quick to come in for a photo opportunity.” However, Scholz said a trip should focus on doing “concrete things.”

Germany announced on Wednesday that it would provide Ukraine with three multiple rocket launch systems of the class that Kyiv said it needed immediately.

Tamara Malko, a resident of the Donetsk region of the Donbas region, said Macron and Scholz were “very cold” to Ukrainians so far, and hoped for change.

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

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Corbet reported from Paris. Associated Press reporters David Keyton of Irpin, Ukraine, Srdjan Nedelikovic of Pokrovsk, Ukraine, Colleen Barry of Milan and Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson of Berlin contributed to this report.

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