Ludovic Marin / AP
KYIV, Ukraine – Four European leaders took the train to the Ukrainian capital on Thursday and met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a demonstration of unity for a country struggling to hold back the Russian army.
In the eyes of many Ukrainians, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have all been too accommodating towards Russia.
For each of them, this was their first trip to Ukraine since the war and doing it together was a clear attempt to show strong European support for Ukraine. The fourth leader, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, is already seen as a solid supporter of Ukraine. His country has welcomed around 800,000 Ukrainian refugees.
The leaders held talks with Zelenskyy in the heavily fortified presidential complex on a hill overlooking the city. Later, at an outdoor press conference, the four visiting leaders, all in suits, stood on either side of Zelenskyy, wearing his signature olive green t-shirt.
Zelenskyy said he trusted the pledges made by the leaders, although no new assistance was announced for Ukraine.
“I am very happy with the discussions we have had today,” he said.
The four leaders arrived in Kiev by train because Ukraine’s civilian airports were closed due to the war. The air raid sirens went off shortly after their arrival.
European leaders first visited Irpin, a suburb of the capital where Russian troops were accused of widespread abuse in the early days of the war.
Ludovic Marin / AP
Macron denounced what he called the “barbarism” of these attacks and said there were signs that the Russians had carried out “massacres”.
The French leader said his trip was intended as “a message of European unity for the Ukrainian people, support now and in the future, because the coming weeks will be very difficult.”
Ukrainian leaders were also angry with Scholz, the German leader, who said Ukraine shouldn’t lose the war but didn’t go so far as to say it should win in its fight with Russia.
But after visiting Irpin, Scholz was bitterly critical of Russia, saying the damage “speaks volumes about the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which it is simply destined to destroy and conquer.”
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy welcomed the US announcement Wednesday that it will send an additional $ 1 billion in military aid that includes heavy weapons for the unarmed Ukrainian army.
“It’s another sign that Western support for Ukraine is here forever,” Zelenskyy said in his regular late-night speech. “I will continue to ask for the necessary weapons and equipment, but the courage and skill of our service members cannot be imported.”
Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine broke down weeks ago and there are no new talks on the horizon.
Olivier Matthys / AP
“How can the country that rapes our women can save face?” Mykhailo Podolyak, one of Zelenskyy’s top advisors, told NPR in an interview this week. “What do we need to win this war, to end it? We need weapons.”
Podolyak is Ukraine’s chief negotiator and in the first weeks of the war he led a team that met several times with Russian representatives. As evidence of Russian abuse on the battlefield, Ukrainian public opinion turned against such talks.
In a poll last month, more than 80 percent of Ukrainians said they were unwilling to give up land for peace, even if it meant a protracted conflict, according to the Kiev International Institute of Sociology.
Podolyak said that if the Ukrainians cede territory to Russia now, albeit with a temporary ceasefire, there are no guarantees that Russia will not invade again later.
“A ceasefire would be a de facto Russian victory,” he said. But, she added, “We are ready to accept something as long as this [Russian] the threat does not persist “.
For now, Podolyak and other Ukrainian leaders say Ukraine is in desperate need of more artillery to fight Russian forces that are making tremendous progress in the eastern part of the country. After weeks of heavy fighting, the Russians are on the verge of capturing the city of Sievierdonetsk in the Donbas region.
Podolyak posted a weapons wish list on Twitter, which included requests for 1,000 howitzers, 1,000 drones, and 500 tanks. He said this would give Ukraine “parity” with Russian forces.
He pointed out that Ukraine is increasingly dependent on Western weapons because it is running out of ammunition for its old Soviet-era arsenal. Additional ammunition for those weapons is not widely available outside of Russia.
Ukraine has switched to NATO equipment in recent years, but Podolyak says it takes European consensus for Ukraine to fully switch to more modern systems that are manufactured and sold around the world.
But as long as the Russians have an advantage in artillery at a ratio of 10 to 1 or more, Ukraine will continue to fight on the battlefield, he said.