Leaders of three EU countries met in Kiev on Tuesday evening with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev in a show of European solidarity, even as Russian shelling continued on residential areas in the Ukrainian capital.
The trip of the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia is the most high-profile visit to Kiev since Russia invaded the country on February 24. In a video that Ukrainian officials posted online, Zelensky was shown briefing visiting leaders. on the military and humanitarian situation in the country.
“Your visit to Kiev at this difficult time for Ukraine is a powerful testimony of support,” Zelensky wrote in a note accompanying the video. “We really appreciate this.”
A screenshot of a video from Tuesday’s meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev
The trip came as NATO said it would hold an emergency summit of the alliance’s 30 leaders, including US President Joe Biden, next week in Brussels.
“We will address the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our strong support to Ukraine, and further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defense in response to a new reality for our security,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General .
Despite the symbolism of the war visit to Kiev, officials in Brussels expressed reservations about the trip, claiming it was not an official mission on behalf of the EU. The presidents of the European Council and the European Commission were briefed on the travel plans last week and pointed to the security risks involved, their spokespersons said.
Michal Dworczyk, a senior aide to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, said Stoltenberg had been informed of the trip but that it had “nothing to do with NATO’s activities”.
After the meeting, Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, issued a statement reiterating Warsaw’s desire for Ukraine to join the EU, a move most member states have resisted despite Zelensky’s lobbying.
“We will never leave you alone, because we know that you are not only fighting for your own freedom and security, but also for us,” Morawiecki said.
The arrival of the three prime ministers came as the destructive Russian attack on Ukrainian population centers continued unabated – including in Kiev and cities in the west of the country, which have so far remained relatively untouched by the war.
Authorities in Rivne, a city in western Ukraine, said 19 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on a television tower. Russian troops also shelled an apartment building in the Svyatoshinsky district of Kiev in the early morning hours on Tuesday, according to Ukrainian emergency services, killing at least two people.
A Russian cruise missile landed in front of a 10-storey residential building in Kiev’s Podil neighborhood after being intercepted by a Ukrainian air defense system, a member of the Ukrainian Civil Territorial Forces told a Financial Times reporter on the ground. The explosion shattered windows and damaged balconies, but police said no one was killed or seriously injured.
An update by the Ukrainian General Staff said that Russia “continues to launch missiles and bomb attacks on critical infrastructure” in several cities in Ukraine and in particular is still trying to take Mariupol, which is completely surrounded by Russian forces. Ukrainian military claims could not be independently verified.
A senior US defense official said Russian ground forces had made “limited to no progress” in achieving their objectives, adding that they remained about 15km-20km northwest and about 20km-30km east of Kiev.
The attacks came on the 20th day of a war that devastated several Ukrainian cities and sparked a wave of international sanctions that has left the Russian economy more isolated than at any time since the end of the cold war.
Aid agencies have repeatedly warned about the appalling conditions in Mariupol, which has been subjected to relentless Russian shelling for more than two weeks. Thousands of people in the besieged city have been forced to live in air raid shelters, deprived of heating, electricity and running water.
Ukrainian authorities said they would make another attempt to deliver humanitarian supplies to civilians detained in Mariupol. A convoy would attempt to break through on Tuesday and take women and children on its way back, said Reintegration Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
On Monday, 160 cars left the city in one of the first successful attempts to evacuate civilians from the port since the start of hostilities.
But Russian shelling on critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railways is making it “difficult” for humanitarian workers to reach people in need, a senior US State Department official said.
“The situation on the ground in Ukraine is deteriorating rapidly,” the foreign ministry official said. “In the absence of a ceasefire, humanitarian safe passage must be ensured so that aid workers can reach those in need of humanitarian assistance.”
The US said 4.7 million people were displaced as a result of the invasion. About 3 million Ukrainians are now refugees, the US official said, including 1 million children.
Zelensky said peace talks with Russia, which ended without a breakthrough on Monday, would continue on Tuesday.
In a speech published on Facebook, Zelensky expressed his personal thanks to an employee of a state news channel in Moscow who interrupted a live broadcast Monday night to explain her opposition to the Kremlin invasion.
Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One, shouted, “Stop the war. No to war,” and held a sign that read, “Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.”
Marina Ovsyannikova protests behind the newscaster on the main Russian evening broadcast on state television © AFP/Getty
The news media in Russia has been banned from portraying the war in neighboring Ukraine as anything other than a “special military operation” — the term used by the Kremlin to describe the invasion.
A former senior Kremlin official, Arkady Dvorkovich, also joined the convictions. Dvorkovich, the head of the World Chess Federation and Russia’s deputy prime minister from 2012-18, told Mother Jones magazine, “My thoughts are with Ukrainian citizens.”
He added: “Wars don’t just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections.”
Additional coverage by Valentina Pop and Felicia Schwartz in Brussels and Aime Williams in Washington
This post Eastern European leaders arrive in Kiev as Russian shelling continues
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