German, French, Italian leaders ride into Kyiv with ‘message of unity’

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit Irpin, Ukraine June 16, 2022. Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters

By Reuters

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy rode into Kyiv on an overnight train on Thursday in a joint demonstration of support for Ukraine, where officials were pleading for more and faster deliveries of Western arms to hold off Russia’s assault.

“It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after the train pulled into the station in Kyiv.

The visit by Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has taken weeks to organise, while all three have faced criticism from Kyiv over support viewed as tepid. Britain’s Boris Johnson already visited more than two months ago.

Still, the decision by the three most powerful EU leaders to travel together held strong symbolism at a pivotal moment – a day before the EU’s executive commission is expected to recommend pushing forward with Ukraine’s bid to join the bloc, which EU leaders are expected to endorse at a summit next week.

NATO defence ministers were also meeting in Brussels on Thursday, where they were expected announce more promises of additional weapons for Kyiv. U.S. President Joe Biden pledged $1 billion worth of new aid on Wednesday, including anti-ship rocket systems, artillery rockets and rounds for howitzers.

The three European leaders were pictured in casual clothes around a table on board the night train. Scholz later stepped out onto the platform in Kyiv in a dark short-sleeved shirt and jeans; Macron and Draghi changed into suits.

All three leaders say they are strong supporters of Ukraine who have taken major practical steps to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticised Scholz over what it regards as Germany’s slow delivery of weapons and reluctance to sever economic ties with Moscow. It was also furious this month when Macron, in an interview, said Russia must not be “humiliated”. Italy has also proposed a peace plan, which Ukrainians fear could lead to pressure on them to give up territory.

“They will say that we need to end the war that is causing food problems and economic problems…that we need to save Mr Putin’s face,” Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told German newspaper Bild.


While the leaders were in Kyiv, their defence ministers were taking part in the culmination of a two-day meeting at NATO headquarters. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “extremely focused” on stepping up support for Ukraine.

Germany’s defence minister said three multiple rocket launchers it had promised Kyiv could be delivered in July or August, once Ukrainians are trained to use them.

Kyiv says it urgently needs more weapons, especially artillery and rockets, to counter Russia’s firepower advantange. Kyiv is taking hundreds of casualties a day as the war has entered a brutal attritional phase in the east.

After Moscow launched its “special military operation” claiming its aim was to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour, Ukraine repelled an armoured assault on Kyiv in March.

Since then, however, Russia has shifted both its aims and its tactics, now trying to fortify territory it occupies in the east and south, and to seize more with slow advances behind massive artillery bombardments.

The main battle in recent weeks has been over the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk. On Wednesday, Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical factory there with hundreds of civilians ignored a Russian order to surrender.

All remaining bridges linking the city with Ukrainian-held territory on the opposite bank of Siverskyi Donets river were destroyed in recent days, but Ukrainian officials say the garrison is not completely cut-off.

Ukraine still holds a pocket of territory in the wider, eastern Donbas region, which Russia has vowed to capture on behalf of its separatist proxies. Most is on the opposite side of the river, which Russian troops have struggled to cross.

In the south, Ukrainian forces have been making slow inroads into Kherson province, the largest swath of territory Russia still holds from the areas it captured since the invasion.