Leaders pledge arms and EU path to Ukraine during visit to Kyiv

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KYIV, Ukraine – Four European leaders expressed their support for Ukraine on Thursday during a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, promising to support Kyiv’s bid to eventually join the European Union and offering more weapons to fend off the Russian invasion.

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised Ukraine six more truck-mounted artillery guns, the latest in a new round of Western arms pledges as war continues in the eastern Donbass region.

France, Germany, Italy and Romania “are doing everything so that only Ukraine can decide its fate”, Macron said during a press conference with Zelenskyy and the others.

“My colleagues and I came here to Kyiv today with a clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

As Ukrainians feared Western resolve was faltering, the visit was loaded with symbolism. France, Germany and Italy have all been criticized for continuing to engage Russian President Vladimir Putin – and for not supplying Kyiv with the amount of weapons it needs.

With Scholz at his side, Macron defended earlier comments that annoyed Ukrainians not to humiliate Russia. He solemnly noted how the end of World War I had sown the seeds of World War II.

“Today we are side by side with Chancellor Scholz. A hundred years ago we were at war and the allies helped France win. France has made a historic mistake. He lost the peace because he wanted to humiliate Germany. The question of humiliation, I always put it in a future context, not in the current context,” he said.

“Today this war must be won, France clearly supports Ukraine to win,” Macron said. “Germany, like France, will never be in situations where it negotiates on behalf of Ukraine with Russia. Moreover, we have never done this.

Ukrainians and some of their central European neighbors have also feared that Western powers will press for territorial concessions in the name of peace with Russia.

Scholz reiterated that there is no such intention to dictate anything to the Ukrainians, and that only they “can decide what is right in terms of agreeing on a peace which we are unfortunately very, very far”.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has expressed concern over the millions of tonnes of grain blocked in Black Sea ports by the war, saying it could lead to a “global catastrophe”. Italy has been a top destination for African migrants and could find itself overwhelmed in the event of a large-scale famine in the southern hemisphere.

“We want the atrocities to stop and we want peace,” Draghi said. “But Ukraine must defend itself, and it will be Ukraine that chooses the peace it wants.”

The leaders also visited Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv which saw intense fighting at the start of the war and where many civilians were killed. They denounced the destruction there, with Macron saying he saw signs of “war crimes”.

As shocking images of such devastation have rallied support in the West, Ukrainian officials have expressed concern that “war fatigue” could eventually erode it, especially as rising prices and the upcoming US election increasingly dominate public concerns.

The United States and its European allies have donated billions of dollars in arms to Ukraine, and Germany and the United States recently announced new arms shipments. These weapons were crucial in preventing the Russians from taking the capital, but Kyiv said many more are needed.

“Russia is only looking for new ways to scare Europe and take more and more of our territory,” Zelenskyy said at the press conference. “Russia’s objective in this war is to smash Ukraine and, through this severance, all of Europe.”

Many in Ukraine hope the visit will mark a turning point by paving the way for significant new arms supplies. It also comes as EU leaders prepare to vote next week on Ukraine’s bid to become a candidate for membership in the bloc.

The war has increased pressure on EU governments to fast-track Ukraine’s candidate status, and Thursday’s pledge to back candidate status for Ukraine and neighboring Moldova pushes the whole l union of 27 nations to do so. But the process is still expected to take years, and EU members remain divided on how quickly and whether to fully open arms to new members.

European allies have sent increasingly powerful weapons and rallied behind Ukraine more than expected, approving unprecedented waves of sanctions against Russia that are also severely squeezing the European economy.

Ukrainians say more is needed as Russia launches an offensive in the Donbass region, slowly but surely gaining ground on undermanned and unarmed Ukrainian forces.

After the press conference, Zelenskyy made a digital appearance at tech shows in Paris, Amsterdam, London and Stockholm as what organizers called a 3D avatar, with his image on a big screen. Wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with futuristic fighters and the texts “Come to the dark side” and “Dominate or die”, he urged countries to support what he called a “digital lend-lease” so that the Ukraine is recovering from the war with a ‘global digital revolution’.

During his visit to Irpin, Scholz said officials must keep the scenes of destruction in mind in all their decisions.

“Innocent civilians were hit, houses were destroyed; an entire city was destroyed in which there was no military infrastructure,” he said. “And that says a lot about the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which is simply doomed to destruction and conquest.”

Macron, Scholz and Draghi, representing the EU’s three largest economies, traveled together to Kyiv on a special overnight train provided by the Ukrainian authorities. They were criticized for not coming sooner. Shortly after their arrival, the air raid sirens sounded.

President Klaus Iohannis of Romania, which borders Ukraine and has been a key destination for its refugees, arrived on a separate train. He said at the press conference that Romania facilitates the transit of Ukrainian exports, including cereals.

A number of other European leaders have already made the trip to show their solidarity with Ukraine, even when fighting raged closer to the capital than it does today.

Scholz had long resisted traveling to Kyiv, saying he didn’t want to ‘join the queue of people making a quick entry for a photo op’, adding that a trip should focus on ‘hard things “.

Germany announced on Wednesday that it would supply Ukraine with three multiple rocket launcher systems of the type that Kyiv has said it urgently needs.

Tamara Malko, a resident of the Donetsk region which is part of Donbass, said Macron and Scholz had been “very cold” towards Ukrainians so far and hoped their visit would bring change.

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

Corbet brought back from Paris. Associated Press reporters David Keyton in Irpin, Ukraine, Srdjan Nedelikovic in Pokrovsk, Ukraine, Colleen Barry in Milan, and Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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