By Biodun Busari
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Premier Mario Draghi and President Klaus Iohannis of Romania visited and met their Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv to show solidarity on Thursday.
Macron, Scholz and Draghi, representing the three largest economies in Europe, traveled to Kyiv together on a special overnight train offered by the Ukrainian authorities.
Iohannis arrived on a separate train, as Romania shares borders with Ukraine and has been a key destination for refugees.
The meeting with Zelensky carries heavy symbolic statement 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 condemned 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. It represents the heroism of the army, but also of the Ukrainian population. And alongside that, you have traces of barbarism,” Macron said.
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 has been involved in diplomatic struggles 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.
In his own contribution, Scholz added that this support would continue “for as long as is necessary for Ukraine’s fight for independence.”