Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Premier Mario Draghi and President Klaus Iohannis of Romania in Kyiv on Thursday as the European leaders visited the Ukrainian capital in a show of solidarity.
Macron, Scholz and Draghi, representing the three largest economies in Europe, traveled to Kyiv together on a special overnight train provided by the Ukrainian authorities.
President Klaus Iohannis of Romania — which borders Ukraine and has been a key destination for refugees — arrived on a separate train.
The meeting with Zelensky carries heavy symbolic weight given that Western European powers have faced criticism for not providing Ukraine with the scale of weaponry that Kyiv has been asking for.
The leaders have also been criticized for not visiting Kyiv sooner. In past weeks and months a number of other world leaders had already made the long trip overland to show solidarity with a nation under attack, even in times when the fighting raged closer to the capital than it does now.
Ahead of the meeting with Zelensky, the leaders visited the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, where Macron said that there are signs of war crimes following “massacres” by Russian forces.
He denounced the “barbarism” of the attacks that devastated the town, and praised the courage of residents of Irpin and other Kyiv region towns who held back Russians forces from attacking the capital.
“It’s here, among other places, that the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army descending onto Kyiv,” the French leader said. “It represents the heroism of the army, but also of the Ukrainian population. And alongside that, you have traces of barbarism.”
In response to a question on his previous remarks that Russia must not be humiliated, Macron said “France has been alongside Ukraine since day one.”
“We stand with the Ukrainians without ambiguity. Ukraine must resist and win,” he said.
“Look at that, ‘Make Europe, not war,’” Macron said when he spotted some graffiti in English. “It’s very moving to see that.”
The visit came as Russian forces press their offensive in the eastern Donbas region, slowly but steadily gaining ground on the badly outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces, who are pleading for more arms from Western allies.
Several air raid sirens rang out while the European leaders were in their hotel preparing for the rest of their visit, and Kyiv authorities urged people to seek shelter. Such alerts are a frequent occurrence.
As he left the hotel, Macron, putting his hand on his heart, said in English: “I want to show my admiration for the Ukrainian people.”
Macron is deeply involved in diplomatic efforts to push for a ceasefire in Ukraine that would allow future peace negotiations. He has frequent discussions with Zelensky and has spoken on the phone several times with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Moscow launched the invasion in late February.
German news agency dpa quoted Scholz as saying that the leaders are seeking to show not only solidarity but also their intent to keep up financial and humanitarian help for Ukraine, and a supply of weapons.
Scholz added that this support would continue “for as long as is necessary for Ukraine’s fight for independence.”
Scholz said that the sanctions against Russia were also significant and could lead to Moscow withdrawing its troops, according to dpa.
Scholz, Macron and Draghi have been criticized not only for helping too little but also for speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Many leaders and regular people in the Baltic and Central European nations, which were controlled by Moscow during the Cold War, believe that Putin only understands force, and have viewed the efforts by Macron and others to keep speaking to Putin following his invasion as unacceptable.
The visit comes as EU leaders prepare to make a decision June 23-24 on Ukraine’s request to become a candidate for EU membership, and ahead of an important NATO summit June 29-30 in Madrid.
Also Thursday, NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels to weigh more military aid for Ukraine. On Wednesday, the US and Germany announced more aid, as America and its allies provide longer-range weapons they say can make a difference in a fight where Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned by their Russian invaders.
Germany on Wednesday announced that it will provide Ukraine with three multiple launch rocket systems of the kind that Kyiv has said it urgently needs to defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
However, the Kremlin on Thursday warned against new Western weapons supplies to Ukraine, saying it would be “absolutely useless and will cause further damage to the country.”
“I would like to hope that the leaders of these three states and the president of Romania will not only focus on supporting Ukraine by further pumping Ukraine with weapons,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.