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France, Germany, Italy and Romania’s leaders visits Ukraine

Newsman: Four European leaders made a high-profile visit to show their support for Ukraine on Thursday, denouncing the brutality of the Russian invasion as they surveyed the ruins of a Kyiv suburb that was the scene of intense fighting early in the war and where many civilians were killed.

The visit comes as EU leaders prepare to make a decision June 23-24 on Ukraine’s request to become a candidate for EU membership, and ahead of an important NATO summit June 29-30 in Madrid.

The European leaders visit included a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which carries heavy symbolic weight since the three Western European powers have faced criticism for continuing to engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and failing to provide Ukraine with the scale of weaponry that it has said is necessary to fend off the Russians.

After arriving in Kyiv to the sound of air raid sirens, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania headed to Irpin, which was seized and briefly held by Russian troops along with other areas near the capital. Mass graves have been unearthed in the area, most notably in Bucha, and French President Emmanuel Macron decried the massacres and said there were signs of war crimes.

He denounced the “barbarism” of the attacks that devastated Irpin, and praised the courage of its residents and others in the region who helped thwart Russia’s attempt to overrun the capital.

In Ukraine, Macron responded to criticism of France’s response, including his recent comment that Russia shouldn’t be “humiliated,” which deeply angered Ukrainians. He insisted that “France has been at Ukraine’s side since the first day.”

His office also released a list of the dates of all his conversations with Zelenskyy. They have spoken by phone on 23 occasions since the war began; and Macron spoke with Putin 11 times, including three times with Scholz.

Macron is involved in diplomatic efforts to push for a cease-fire in Ukraine that would allow future peace negotiations. He has frequent discussions with Zelenskyy and has spoken on the phone several times with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Putin launched the invasion in late February.

Scholz had long resisted traveling to Kyiv, saying he didn’t want to “join the queue of people who do a quick in-out for a photo opportunity.” Instead, Scholz said a trip should focus on doing “concrete things.”

Germany on Wednesday announced that it will provide Ukraine with three multiple launch rocket systems of the kind that Kyiv has said it urgently needs.

Western arms were key to Ukraine’s surprising success in preventing the Russians from taking the capital — but officials have said much more will be needed if they are to drive Moscow’s forces out.

The leaders have also been criticized for not visiting Kyiv sooner. A number of other European leaders have 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.

On Thursday, NATO defense ministers met in Brussels to consider more military aid for Ukraine, and many hoped in Ukraine that the leaders’ visit could mark a turning point by opening the way to significant new arms supplies — particularly as the officials surveyed the war’s devastation.

Macron, Scholz and Draghi, representing the three largest economies in Europe, traveled to Kyiv together on a special overnight train provided by the Ukrainian authorities.

President Klaus Iohannis of Romania — which borders Ukraine and has been a key destination for Ukrainian refugees — arrived on a separate train.

After viewing Irpin, he wrote on Twitter that there are “no words to describe the unimaginable human tragedy and horrible destruction” and called for “all Russian perpetrators to be held responsible by the international criminal justice” system.

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