UPDATED: European leaders meet Zelenskiy in Kyiv for first time since war began

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IRPIN, Ukraine, June 16 (Reuters) – The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday in a show of support which Kyiv hopes will be followed by more weapons and tougher action to help in the war with Russia.

In the first such visit to the capital since Russia unleashed its invasion, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Italy’s Mario Draghi and Romania’s Klaus Iohannis, shook hands with Zelenskiy, who has not left Ukraine since war began.

The meeting came after the four European leaders had walked around ruined buildings and wrecked cars in the nearby town of Irpin, the scene of heavy fighting early in the invasion.

(L-R) Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis meet for a working session in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, Ukraine. EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL

The tour was designed to highlight what Ukraine and its backers say were large-scale atrocities committed by Russian troops, what Scholz described as the scene of “unimaginable cruelty” and “senseless violence”.

 The Ukrainian town of Irpin, like Bucha before it, has become a symbol of the “cruelty” of Russia’s war in Ukraine and its senseless violence, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to the Kyiv suburb, adding that the war must end.

Scholz is visiting Kyiv with the French, Italian and Romanian leaders, where they are due to hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Irpin, like Bucha, has become a symbol of the unimaginable cruelty of the Russian war, of senseless violence,” Scholz wrote on Twitter. “The brutal destruction of this city is a warning: this war must end.”

The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania walked around ruined buildings and wrecked cars in the Ukrainian town of Irpin on Thursday in a show of support which Kyiv hopes will be followed by tougher action to help in the war with Russia.

The tour of Irpin, the scene of heavy fighting early in the invasion, was meant to highlight what Ukraine and its backers say were large-scale atrocities committed by Russian troops.

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 minister explaining what had happened there.

The leaders were shown the wreckage of a car which Ukraine says was targeted by Russian troops when a mother and children were inside. Russia denies allegations that its forces committed atrocities.

“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.

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.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (C, front) arrives at the Kyiv railway station in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, 16 June 2022. Scholz traveled from Poland on a night train with the Italian prime minister and the French president. The three EU leaders will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL MAXPPP OUT

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.”

After the leaders spoke to Irpin’s mayor and other officials, Draghi added: “Much of what they talked about was reconstruction. Words of pain, of hope, but also of what they want to do in the future.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (C) visit Irpin, Ukraine, 16 June 2022. French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived on a night train from Poland to Kyiv and will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, at a time when the country is pushing for EU membership. EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL

The Kremlin said the leaders should use their time with Zelenskiy to take a “realistic look at the state of affairs” rather than discussing more arms shipments to Kyiv.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, mocked the visit as having “zero use”, “promised EU membership and old howitzers to Ukraine”.

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 but is also something EU leaders are very divided on. 

“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.

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 favourable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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.

UK sets out new Russia sanctions for “barbaric treatment of children in Ukraine”

LONDON, June 16 (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday said it had sanctioned Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for the “forced transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children”, as part of a new wave of sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

“We are targeting the enablers and perpetrators of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war who have brought untold suffering to Ukraine, including the forced transfer and adoption of children,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

Britain said the latest sanctions round of sanctions also included Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, targetted for his support and endorsement of the war in Ukraine

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