Europe steps up support for Ukraine as Russia presses offensive

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  • Zelensky thanks EU leaders for solidarity visit
  • Commanders roam the devastated city of Irbin
  • Fighting rages in Severodonetsk and southern Ukraine

Kyiv/IRBIN, Ukraine, June 17 (Reuters) – Britain will host talks on rebuilding key infrastructure in Kyiv on Friday, a day after the leaders of Germany, France and Italy visited Ukraine and offered it hope for European Union membership as it battles an onslaught Russian fierce in the East.

Sirens sounded when French President Emmanuel Macron, German Olaf Schulz and Italy’s Mario Draghi visited the Ukrainian capital and a nearby town was devastated early in the war. Read more

After holding talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the leaders indicated that Ukraine should be granted EU candidate status, a symbolic gesture that would bring Kyiv closer to the economic bloc.

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Schulz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees and would continue to support Ukraine as long as needed.

“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” he said.

Britain will receive representatives from Ukraine and business leaders on Friday to discuss how British companies can help rebuild key infrastructure in Kyiv. Read more

Britain will strengthen cooperation between its infrastructure, energy and transport companies, and Ukrainian public and private organizations to help repair damaged and destroyed infrastructure.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their forces were holding out intense Russian bombing of the eastern city of Severodonetsk and described new progress in a counter-offensive in the south.

But they said battles on the two main fronts depended on receiving more help from the West, especially artillery, to counter Russia’s great advantage in firepower.

“We appreciate the support already provided by the partners, and we expect the delivery of new shipments, mainly heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery and anti-missile defense systems,” Zelensky said Thursday after talks with his European counterparts.

Macron said France would step up arms shipments to Kyiv, while NATO defense ministers in Brussels pledged more arms to Ukraine as they plan to bolster the eastern flank of the US-led military alliance.

“Make Europe not war”

The visit of the three most powerful leaders in the European Union to Ukraine took weeks to organize as they fended off criticism over attitudes described as too condescending to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The leaders, joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irbin, shortly after the invasion began on February 24.

Referring to graffiti on the wall reading “Make Europe, not war,” Macron said: “It is very moving to see that. This is the right message.”

Putin has repeatedly said that the main direct reason for what he called a “special military operation” was to protect Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine from persecution and attack.

Schulz, Macron and Draghi say they are staunch supporters of Ukraine who have taken practical steps to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticized Schulze over what it sees as Germany’s slow delivery of arms and its reluctance to cut economic ties with Moscow, and this month drew ire from Macron for saying in an interview that Russia should not be “humiliated”.

Italy has also proposed a peace plan that the Ukrainians fear will pressure them to give up their lands. After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said that some kind of communication channel with Putin was still needed.

ghost villages

In the south, Ukraine says its forces are making their way into the Kherson region, which Russia occupied early in its invasion. There have been few independent reports to confirm the battle locations in the area.

Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andrei Yermak, wrote on Twitter that he had visited an area about 3 to 4 kilometers (about 2 miles) from the Russian positions, where dozens of “ghost villages” had been evacuated due to the fighting.

“Our men are on the ground – the mood is fighting. Even with limited resources, we are repelling the enemy. One thing is missing – long-range weapons. In any case, we will drive them out of the south,” he wrote. .

The main battle has erupted in recent weeks around the eastern city of Severodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces are holed up in a chemical plant with hundreds of civilians.

“Every day it becomes more difficult because the Russians are pulling more and more weapons into the city,” said Oleksandr Stryuk, mayor of Severodonetsk.

On Thursday, an air strike hit a building housing civilians in Yesichansk across the river, killing at least four and wounding seven, district governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

Meanwhile, the Dutch intelligence service said it had uncovered a complex Russian plot to put a military agent using a false Brazilian identity in the International Criminal Court, which is investigating suspected war crimes.

“This was a long-running, multi-year operation, and it cost a lot of time, effort and money,” said the head of the Dutch intelligence agency, Eric Ackerbom, using the acronym for the GRU. There was no comment on the case from the Russian government or the International Criminal Court. Read more

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Additional reporting by Reuters offices; Written by Ramy Ayoub and Stephen Coates. Editing by Angus McSwan, Alex Richardson and Rosalba O’Brien

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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