European leaders visit Ukraine’s Irpin in show of support


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IRPIN — The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania walked amid the ruined buildings of the Ukrainian town of Irpin on Thursday in a show of support which the Kyiv government hopes will be followed by concrete action to help it in the war with Russia.

Irpin, which had a pre-war population of about 62,000, was one of the main hotspots of fighting with Russian troops before they pulled back from Ukraine’s northern regions to intensify their offensive in the east.

Standing by gutted, burnt-out buildings, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Italy’s Mario Draghi and Romania’s Klaus Iohannis, looked stern as they listened to a Ukrainian official explaining what had happened there.

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Ukraine says Russia committed large-scale atrocities in Irpin. Russia denies the allegations.

“It’s a heroic city…marked by the stigma of barbarism,” Macron told reporters.

The leaders, dressed in suits but not wearing any visible protective equipment, were surrounded by heavily armed soldiers.

Kyiv has accused France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, of foot-dragging in their support for Ukraine, saying they have been slow to deliver weapons and have put their own prosperity ahead of Ukraine’s freedom and security.

Asked about that criticism, Macron pointed to arms deliveries and financial support.

“France and Europe have been standing by Ukraine and its population since the beginning,” he said.

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Ukraine’s bid to join the 27-nation European Union, and its demand for more weapons to fight off Russia, are expected to be two main themes of the EU leaders’ talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later in the day. Zelenskiy did not accompany them to Irpin.

Shown a slogan on a wall of a damaged building in Irpin that said “Make Europe not war,” Macron said: “It’s very moving to see that. This is the right message.”

EU CANDIDACY, WEAPONS

The EU executive is expected to propose on Friday that Ukraine become a formal candidate for membership, diplomats and officials say. That would be a significant political gesture to the country as it resists Russia’s invasion but is also something EU leaders are very divided on.

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“A balance has to be found between Ukraine’s natural aspirations to (join) the EU at a very special time, and attention to all the countries which already have candidate status and are stuck in the negotiation chapters,” an Elysee official said.

Macron, who had been criticized at home and abroad for not traveling to Ukraine earlier, had repeatedly said he would only go if and when the visit could be “useful” and not be just a symbolic show of support.

Zelenskiy is expected to push his visitors to send more arms to help his hard-pressed army withstand the Russian invaders.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy, said this week he was concerned the three leaders would put pressure on Kyiv to accept a peace deal favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Addressing this concern, Draghi said on Tuesday it was important for peace talks to open as soon as possible, but added they had to be “on terms that Ukraine deems acceptable.”

Ukraine has been particularly critical of Germany’s military aid and the country’s ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, told German broadcaster NTV he expected Scholz to hand over heavy weapons that had been long-promised but not yet delivered.

Scholz has dismissed allegations he has held back much-needed military support, saying Germany was one of the biggest military and financial backers of Ukraine, and that it was taking time to train Ukrainian soldiers to use the sophisticated artillery systems that it was offering. (Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Andreas Rinke in Berlin, John Irish, Michel Rose and Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Toby Chopra, Mark Potter and Angus MacSwan)

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