Top EU leaders visit Ukraine as Russian troops pound Donbas

The leaders of the European Union’s three most influential countries arrived in Ukraine on Thursday in one of the largest demonstrations of support for the beleaguered nation after four months of Russian onslaught.

The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to Kyiv came amid growing criticism of Europe’s strategy to support Ukraine and after repeated pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the West to to deliver more powerful weapons to help his fighters.

Macron, who joined Draghi and Scholz to take the train across Ukraine’s western border to arrive in Kyiv, said he was there to deliver a “message of unity” and “both about the present and the future.” to speak because we know that the coming weeks are going to be very difficult.”

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrived separately and joined the other three European leaders as they toured Irpin – a Kyiv suburb that was among the hardest hit in the early stages of the war – before the group joined forces Zelenskyj should meet.

Leaders of Italy, France and Germany in one train

From left: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz board a train bound for Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday.

(Ludovic Marin / pool photo)

“It’s an important moment,” Macron said of the diplomacy that came as the war entered its 17th week.

Although foreign dignitaries have regularly traveled to Kyiv to show their support for Zelenskyy, it was the first visit by leaders from France and Germany, traditionally the EU’s two drivers, both of whom have been accused by Ukraine of providing insufficient support to have.

Macron recently faced criticism after urging Western leaders to avoid “humiliating” Russia. Scholz, whose country is heavily dependent on Russian energy imports, has expressed doubts about an EU ban on Moscow’s gas and oil industries, although he has softened his view over the months.

An EU panel is expected to make a recommendation on Friday that Ukraine should be considered for membership in the bloc, although admission would require the consent of all 27 EU nations and usually follows a lengthy process.

The four EU leaders’ pilgrimage to Kyiv, which has remained relatively unscathed by the war in recent weeks, came against the backdrop of a full-scale Russian attack on the eastern Donbass region. The area bordering Russia has been the focus of Moscow’s ambitions since late spring, after its forces were repelled from Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

At the same time, the Kremlin took control of important cities, including the port city of Mariupol and Kherson, the first urban area to fall to the invading forces early in the war.

In the Donbass, an industrial heartland, no city is spared from the war.

On a weekday in Toretsk, a small town in Donetsk province, many of the 31,000 residents would normally work in the two state-owned mines. But like many other areas in Donbass, Toretsk appeared empty on Thursday, with mostly uniformed service personnel and occasional groups of residents queuing at ATMs and outside shops.

In the morning, what appeared to be a missile struck one of the mines on the outskirts of town. A few nearby people seemed unconcerned, going about their business without a glance at the smoke that enveloped the mine’s tower.

Moscow’s forces have also waged an aggressive battle over the city of Severodonetsk, with Ukrainian officials all but saying they expect the area to fall to Russia.

Shells of cars on a street in a contested Ukrainian city

The shells of wrecked cars lie along a road in Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine that Russian troops are attempting to capture.

(Oleksandr Ratushniak / Associated Press)

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said this week that Moscow controls 80% of Severodonetsk, which borders the strategically important Seversky Donets River and is one of the last places in Luhansk still in Ukrainian hands.

Evacuations of residents are “simply not possible,” said Haidai.

Bulos reported from Toretsk and Kaleem from London. Top EU leaders visit Ukraine as Russian troops pound Donbas

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