German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, French president, Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, have arrived in Kyiv on a symbolic joint trip to show their support for Ukraine as it struggles to resist Russian advances in the east of the country.
The three were pictured travelling together overnight in a train from Poland used to transport high-profile guests to Ukraine, but little information was given about the details of the highly anticipated trip.
“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians, of support, to talk both about the present and the future, since the coming weeks, as we know, will be very difficult,” Macron told reporters at the train station in Kyiv.
The three leaders were greeted with air raid sirens in the Ukrainian capital, as Russia continued to strike targets across the country. Local officials said on Thursday that an overnight Russian air-launched rocket strike hit a suburb of the northern Ukrainian city of Sumy, killing four and wounding six.
“We’re here, focused, and we’re about to meet President Zelenskiy now to visit a war site where massacres have been committed, and then to lead the conversations that are scheduled with President Zelenskiy,” Macron added.
Soon after their arrival, the three leaders were pictured visiting Irpin, a commuter town a few miles from Kyiv that was subject to some of the heaviest fighting in the first weeks of Russia’s invasion.
Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, who also arrived in Kyiv on Thursday by train is expected to join them for talks with the Ukrainian leader.
The visit comes as complaints grow louder in Kyiv about slow arms deliveries, with one official saying this week that Ukraine had only received 10% of the weapons it had requested from the west.
Scholz has become the main target of complaints, with Ukraine particularly unhappy with Germany’s military aid. The country’s ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, told German broadcaster NTV that he expected Scholz to hand over heavy weapons that had been long-promised but not yet delivered.
The first joint visit from the leaders of the three largest EU economies is taking place a week before the EU summit where European leaders are expected to discuss Kyiv’s bid to join the 27-nation bloc.
Macron previously tempered Ukraine’s ambitions to join the EU, saying it could take “decades” for Ukraine to be accepted into the EU.
There are also fears in Kyiv that the three leaders would put pressure on Kyiv to accept a peace deal favourable to Vladimir Putin, as Russia continues to make gains in the Donbas region and currently occupies around 20% of Ukraine’s territory.
Commenting on recent statements by Macron that it was vital for the west not to “humiliate” Russia’s president, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy, told the German newspaper Bild:
“They will say that we need to end the war that is causing food problems and economic problems.”
At the same time, European unity has been challenged by the far-reaching consequences of Russia’s invasion, including rising costs of living and spiralling energy prices across the continent.
A survey this week from nine EU member states plus the UK found support for Ukraine remained high, but that preoccupations had shifted to the conflict’s wider economic impacts, further heightening fears in Kyiv that western support for the country would fade as Russia continues to make advances in the east of the country.
Speaking to journalists at the annual St Petersburg international economic forum in Russia on Thursday, Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed republic in Donetsk, said that he hoped the so called “special military operation” would be over by the end of the year, as both sides prepared for a prolonged war of attrition with no short-term end in sight.
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