KYIV, Ukraine — The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia traveled to the embattled Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Tuesday in a show of support for Ukraine even as bombardment by the Russian military edged closer to the center of the city.
The three leaders went ahead with the hours-long train trip despite worries within the European Union about the security risks of traveling within a war zone.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on social media in the evening that he, deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the Czech and Slovenian leaders were in Kyiv.
“It is here, in war-torn Kyiv, that history is being made. It is here, that freedom fights against the world of tyranny. It is here that the future of us all hangs in the balance,” Morawiecki said on Twitter.
It was a strong symbol of support for Ukraine while the long journey over land from Poland to Kyiv sent another signal, too: that most of Ukraine still remains in Ukrainian hands.
“The courage of true friends of Ukraine!” commented Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
It is here, in war-torn Kyiv, that history is being made. It is here, that freedom fights against the world of tyranny. It is here that the future of us all hangs in the balance. EU supports UA, which can count on the help of its friends – we brought this message to Kyiv today. pic.twitter.com/Us7k9xTq5f
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) March 15, 2022
Poland’s leaders, together with prime ministers Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic and Janez Jansa of Slovenia, said they were on an EU mission. But officials from the 27-nation bloc insisted that the trio had undertaken the trip independently.
The three Central European nations are former communist bloc countries that now belong to both the EU and NATO. Underlining the deteriorating security situation in Kyiv, a series of strikes hit a residential neighborhood in the city again on Tuesday.
Jansa described the visit as a way to send a message that Ukraine is a European country that deserves to be accepted one day into the EU. Two weeks earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an emotional appeal to the European Parliament on that very subject.
“We are fighting also to be equal members of Europe,” Zelensky told EU lawmakers on March 1. “I believe that today we are showing everybody that is what we are.”
Jansa said the war has awoken Europeans to the idea that the bloc represents fundamental ideas that are under threat — and which Ukrainians are defending with their lives.
“Thank you for not only defending your homeland and Europe as a territory, but for defending the very core of European values and our way of life. Your fight is our fight and together we will prevail,” tweeted Jansa, a right-wing populist friendly with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Morawiecki said on Facebook that the visit was agreed by the EU and that the United Nations was also informed. Yet in Brussels, officials said they had been informed of the visit but characterized it as one taken independently into a war zone.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was asked about the visit, didn’t endorse it outright but said “I think it is important that leaders of NATO countries, of European member states, are engaging closely with President Zelensky.”
The visit had been planned for several days but was kept secret for security reasons, said Michal Dworczyk, chief of staff for Morawiecki.
The three premiers met at a round a table with their Ukrainian counterpart Shmyhal and Zelensky, who detailed the situation to them.
“They are shelling everywhere. Not only Kyiv but also the western areas,” Zelensky told them in comments translated into English, a video posted on his Telegram account showed.
Голова польського уряду Матеуш Моравецький, віце-прем'єр Ярослав Качиньський, Прем'єр-міністр Чехії Петр Фіала та Прем'…
Earlier Tuesday, a series of powerful explosions rocked residential districts of Kyiv early Tuesday killing two people, just hours before talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume.
The city is surrounded to the north and east, and authorities have set up checkpoints, while residents are stockpiling food and medicine.
Overnight shelling also caused massive damage at the airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, regional authorities said Tuesday.
“During the night the enemy attacked the Dnipro airport. Two strikes. The runway was destroyed. The terminal is damaged. Massive destruction,” region governor Valentin Reznichenko said.
Hours earlier, Zelensky issued a new video address sounding a note of cautious optimism about ongoing peace talks.
He claimed Russia was realizing that victory would not come on the battlefield.
“They have already begun to understand that they will not achieve anything by war,” Zelensky said. He said Monday’s talks were “pretty good… but let’s see. They will continue” Tuesday.
Ukrainian negotiators say they want “peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.”
Meanwhile, Russian forces reportedly took hundreds hostage at a hospital in the city of Mariupol.
Sergei Orlov, Mariupol’s mayor, told the BBC that around 400 people at the Regional Intensive Care Hospital are “hostages.”
“We received information that the Russian army captured our biggest hospital,” Orlov said.
The Russians are “using patients and doctors like hostages,” he added.
In a quote shared by the area’s governor, a hospital employee said, “It is impossible to get out of the hospital. There is a heavy shooting, we sit in the basement. Vehicles have not been able to drive to the hospital for two days. High-rise buildings are burning around.”
The Kyiv Independent said the area’s governor also reported the hospital hostage situation. It said the Russians took residents of neighboring homes to the hospital and won’t allow them to leave.
Other reports said patients and staff are among the hostages.
One of the hospital’s employees alerted authorities to the situation, the Pravda news outlet says.
The hospital was hit by a Russian airstrike last week.
Separately, a Ukrainian presidential aide said around 20,000 people managed to leave Mariupol on Tuesday by driving along a humanitarian corridor agreed with Russian forces.
“Today around 20,000 people drove out of Mariupol in private cars along the humanitarian corridor,” Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Telegram.
Nearly three weeks into Russia’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor, more than three million have fled to neighboring countries, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Canadian lawmakers in a virtual address.
Ninety-seven Ukrainian children have died, he added.
“They’ve already killed 97 Ukrainian children,” Zelensky said in the video address, adding that Russia’s military was “destroying everything: memorial complexes, schools, hospitals, housing complexes.”
“We’re not asking for much. We’re asking for justice, for real support, which will help us to prevail, to defend [ourselves], to save lives,” he said, receiving a standing ovation from lawmakers.