June 16 (UPI) — The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania arrived in Ukraine on Thursday as a show of European support for Kyiv amid Russia’s war.
The visit to Kyiv by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is the highest profile trip yet to the besieged nation. It also comes as Ukraine seeks European Union membership and as its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, calls on allies for heavier weaponry to fend off Kremlin forces that have made recent gains in the eastern Donbas region.
Macron, Scholz and Draghi arrived in Kyiv early Thursday after traveling overnight by a special train with Iohannis arriving alone hours later, Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications, which is known as Spravdi, confirmed on its Telegram account.
On arrival, Macron told reporters from the station that he and the other leaders want to present the Ukrainian people with a “message of unity.”
“It’s an important moment,” he said.
The leaders were to meet with Zelensky as well as visit a massacre site, Macron said without elaborating.
Andrii Yermak, head of the office of the Ukrainian president, said on his official Telegram account that food security, weapons and support for Ukraine will be discussed during the meetings.
“We expect support for Ukraine’s application for EU candidate status,” he added.
Iohannis said via Twitter that they are there “to show our strong support and full solidarity with President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people.”
“This illegal Russian aggression must stop!” he said.
Not long after the arrival of the European leaders in Kyiv air raid sirens blared throughout the city, said Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
“No doubt it’s a message to European leaders,” she tweeted. “I hope they will hear [Russian President Vladimir] Putin loud and clear.”
Despite the presence of the world leaders, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk cautioned not to expect any “bright announcements” but said that either way the meetings will be “historical.”
“It’s a great signal that strengthens Ukraine and Europe,” she told reporters.
The trip comes as the war enters its 113 day.
Russia, which launched the war Feb. 24, has made recent gains in the eastern Donbas region, and has taken control of at least 80% of Severodonetsk city, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.
Allies, including the United States, have been arming Ukraine in its war against Russia, but Zelensky has repeatedly requested heavier weaponry, including anti-missile launchers.
On Wednesday, Germany pledged to donate three multiple launch rocket systems that Zelensky had been asking for. The M270 Mittleres Artillerie Raketen System launchers will give Kyiv forces the ability to hit targets some 40 miles away with precision.