Von der Leyen visits Kyiv to discuss bringing Ukraine closer to EU

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Fresh from her state of the union speech, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has travelled to Kyiv to reinforce the bloc’s support for Ukraine.

She is due to meet Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Denys Shmyhal, the country’s prime minister.

The meeting was expected to focus on how to unite Ukraine and Europe to progress the country’s accession to the European Union.

France’s president Emmanuel Macron has said it could take Ukraine “several decades” to join the bloc. 

Ukraine will likely ask for more financial and military support. After its counter-offensive, which has taken large swathes of territory in the northeast, Kyiv is keen to show that any extra weapons would have tangible results in the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said towns and villages recaptured from Russian forces had been devastated, while a major city stepped up efforts on Thursday to repair damage to its water system from missile attacks.

Kryvyi Rih, the largest city in central Ukraine with an estimated pre-war population of 650,000, was hit by eight cruise missiles on Wednesday, officials said.

The strikes hit the Karachunov reservoir dam, Zelenskiy said in a video address released early on Thursday. The water system had “no military value” and hundreds of thousands of civilians depend on it daily, he said.

Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the Krivyi Rih military administration, said in a post on Telegram that 112 homes were flooded but that works to repair the dam on the Inhulets river were under way and that “flooding was receding”.

Russian forces suffered a stunning reversal this month after Ukrainian troops made a rapid armoured thrust in the Kharkiv region in its northeast, forcing a rushed Russian withdrawal.

Zelenskiy on Wednesday made a surprise visit to Izium – until four days ago Russia’s main bastion in the Kharkiv region – where he watched as the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag was raised in front of the charred city council building.

“Our law enforcers are already receiving evidence of murder, torture, and abductions of people by the occupiers,” he said, adding there was “evidence of genocide against Ukrainians”.

“They only destroyed, only seized, only deported. They left devastated villages, and in some of them there is not a single surviving house,” Zelenskiy added in the video address.

Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians, and Reuters could not immediately verify battlefield reports. read more

Zelenskiy’s video address was released after his return to Kyiv from the Kharkiv region and following word from his office that his car had collided with a private vehicle in the capital.

“The president was examined by a doctor, no serious injuries were found,” presidential spokesman Serhii Nykyforov said in a Facebook post early on Thursday.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Thursday that Russian forces had launched attacks on several settlements on the Kharkiv frontline in the past 24 hours.

However, Ukraine’s forces continue to consolidate their control of the newly liberated areas in the region, Britain’s defence ministry said in an update on Thursday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke to Putin over the phone this week, said the Russian president “unfortunately” still did not think his invasion was a mistake.

Putin says he wants to ensure Russian security and protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of an unprovoked war of aggression.

In a move that suggests Putin had wider war aims when he ordered troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, three people close to the Russian leadership told Reuters that Putin had rejected a provisional deal with Kyiv around the time the war began.

They said the deal would have satisfied Russia’s demand that Ukraine stay out of the U.S.-led Western military alliance NATO. The Kremlin said the Reuters report had “absolutely no relation to reality”. It also said Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO still presented a threat to Russia.

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