Tags: eu | ursula von der leyen | ukraine | russia | invasion | vladimir putin | volodymyr zelenskyy

EU Chief Vows Unfaltering Backing on Kyiv Visit

Ursula von der Leyen gestures while speaking into a microphone
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen (AP)

Thursday, 15 September 2022 05:58 PM EDT

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday in Kyiv that war-torn Ukraine would have Europe's support for "as long as it takes," as the country's president announced the discovery of a mass grave in a town recaptured from Russia.

Von der Leyen's trip coincided with a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his increasingly close ally Chinese leader Xi Jinping in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan, where the men hailed their strategic ties in defiance of the West.

She said Thursday's visit was her third to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February, but this one was different.

"We will never be able to match the sacrifice that the Ukrainians are making," she told reporters during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

"But what we can tell you is that you'll have your European friends by your side as long as it takes," she said.

Highlighting the toll of the conflict, Zelenskyy said in his evening address that a mass grave had been found in Izyum after the town was recaptured.

"We want the world to know what the Russian occupation has caused," he said, without giving details on the number of bodies found or their cause of death.

A regional police official, Sergei Botvinov, told Sky News that a burial site with around 440 graves had been discovered in Izyum, with some of the dead shot and others killed in shelling.

Von der Leyen had earlier said she wants Putin to face the International Criminal Court over war crimes in Ukraine.

"That Putin must lose this war and must face up to his actions, that is important to me," she told the TV channel of German news outlet Bild.

- 'Sanctions are here to stay' -

Upon arriving in the country, she said her discussions with the Ukraine's leaders would be about "getting our economies and people closer."

Kyiv gained EU candidacy status in June at the same time as ex-Soviet Moldova, which borders Ukraine and like its neighbor has had Russian troops stationed in an eastern breakaway region.

The historic candidacy vote angered Moscow, which has tried to retain political and military influence in both countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

EU countries have staunchly supported Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February by hitting Russia with economic penalties.

Many members of the bloc have supplied Kyiv with advanced weapons that have helped Ukrainian forces in recent weeks recapture swathes of territory.

Germany's defense minister pledged more weapons on Thursday, saying Berlin will provide armored vehicles and rocket launch systems but not the battle tanks sought by Ukraine.

Von der Leyen said just ahead of her trip that the successive waves of EU sanctions against Russia would remain and that Europeans must keep their resolve against Moscow.

"I want to make it very clear, the sanctions are here to stay," she told the European Parliament.

The Kremlin maintains that Russia has weathered the economic penalties and Moscow has responded by reducing or halting entirely gas flows to European countries.

With winter fast approaching, this has forced the EU to source alternative supplies, agree plans to cut consumption and roll out financial support in the face of skyrocketing prices.

- Putin praises Xi's stance -

Ukrainian energy facilities, including Zaporizhzhia – Europe's biggest atomic plant – have been hit by Russian strikes.

The UN nuclear agency on Thursday asked Russia to withdraw its troops from Zaporizhzhia, diplomats said.

Ukraine's forces have posted slow but steady gains in the southern Kherson region near the Black Sea.

The Ukrainian presidency said on Thursday that intense fighting was ongoing around that southern front, adding that the military situation "remains extremely difficult."

Local officials in the region around Zelenskyy's hometown of Kryvyi Rih reported fresh Russian strikes Thursday after attacks damaged a dam and saw dozens of homes flooded.

In the eastern Donetsk region, which has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, fresh shelling killed two civilians and left another 13 wounded.

At the meeting in Uzbekistan, Putin blasted attempts to create a "unipolar world" and praised China's stance on the conflict.

"We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis," Putin told Xi.

Beijing has not explicitly endorsed Moscow's invasion but it has steadily built economic and strategic ties with Russia over the six months of the war.

© AFP 2024

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday in Kyiv that war-torn Ukraine would have Europe's support for "as long as it takes," as the country's president announced the discovery of a mass grave in a town recaptured from Russia.
eu, ursula von der leyen, ukraine, russia, invasion, vladimir putin, volodymyr zelenskyy
Thursday, 15 September 2022 05:58 PM
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