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Ukraine's Zelenskyy hosts European leaders, welcomes more U.S. weapons

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (left), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (second left), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (center), French President Emmanuel Macron (second right), and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis meet at the Ukrainian presidential compound Thursday in a collective show of European support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Ludovic Marin
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AP
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (left), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (second left), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (center), French President Emmanuel Macron (second right), and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis meet at the Ukrainian presidential compound Thursday in a collective show of European support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Updated June 16, 2022 at 8:33 AM ET

KYIV, Ukraine — Four European leaders took the train to Ukraine's capital Thursday and met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a show of unity for a country struggling to hold back the Russian military.

In the eyes of many Ukrainians, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have all been too accommodating toward Russia.

For each of them, this was the first trip to Ukraine since the war began, and doing so jointly was a clear attempt to show strong European backing for Ukraine. The fourth leader, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, is already seen as a solid supporter of Ukraine. His country has taken in some 800,000 Ukrainian refugees.

The leaders held talks their talks with Zelenskyy at the heavily fortified presidential compound on a hilltop overlooking the city. At an outdoor press conference afterward, the four visiting leaders, all in suits and ties, stood on either side of Zelenskyy, in his trademark olive t-shirt.

Zelenskyy said he trusted the commitments made by the leaders, though no new assistance for Ukraine was announced.

"I am very happy with the discussions we have had today," he said.

The four leaders arrived in Kyiv by train because Ukraine's civilian airports have been shut down by the war. Air raid sirens went off shortly after they arrived.

The European leaders first visited Irpin, a suburb of the capital where Russian troops were accused of widespread abuses in the early days of the war.

French President Emmanuel Macron (center), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right), and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travel on board a train bound to Kyiv after departing from Poland. The three leaders are meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday to talk about the war in Ukraine.
Ludovic Marin / AP
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AP
French President Emmanuel Macron (center), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right), and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travel by train to Kyiv after departing from Poland. The three leaders met later with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to talk about the war in Ukraine.

Macron denounced what he called the "barbarism" of these attacks and said there were signs the Russians had carried out "massacres."

The French leader said his trip was intended as "a message of European unity for the Ukrainian people, support now and in the future, because the weeks to come will be very difficult."

Ukrainian leaders have also been upset with Scholz, the German leader, who has said Ukraine should not lose the war, but has not gone so far as to say it should win in its fight with Russia.

But after visiting Irpin, Scholz was sharply critical of Russia, saying the damage "says a lot about the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which is simply out to destroy and conquer."

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy welcomed the U.S. announcement Wednesday that it's sending an additional $1 billion in military aid that includes heavy weapons for the outgunned Ukrainian military.

"It's yet another sign that Western support for Ukraine is here for good," Zelenskyy said in his regular late-night address. "I'll keep asking for necessary weapons and equipment, but the bravery and skillfulness of our service members can't be imported."

Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine broke down weeks ago and no new talks are on the horizon.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left), and U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley speak at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. The NATO defense ministers are meeting to discuss the war in Ukraine. The U.S. announced an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, which includes heavy weapons.
Olivier Matthys / AP
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AP
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left), and U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speak at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. The NATO defense ministers are meeting to discuss the war in Ukraine. The U.S. announced an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, which includes heavy weapons.

"How can the country that rapes our women be allowed save face?" Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelenskyy, told NPR in an interview this week. "What do we need to win this war, to have this war come to an end? We need weapons."

Podolyak is Ukraine's chief negotiator, and in the early weeks of the war he led a team that met several times with Russian representatives. As evidence of Russian abuses mounted on the battlefield, the Ukrainian public turned against such talks.

In a poll last month, more than 80% of Ukrainians said they were unwilling to give up territory for peace, even if it means a prolonged conflict, according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

Podolyak said if Ukrainians cede territory to Russia now, even if under a temporary ceasefire, there are no guarantees Russia would not invade again later.

"A cease-fire would be a de facto Russian victory," he said. But, he added, "We are ready to agree to something so long as this [Russian] threat does not persist."

For now, Podolyak and other Ukrainian leaders say Ukraine desperately needs more artillery to combat the Russian forces that are making grinding progress in the eastern part of the country. After weeks of heavy fighting, the Russians are on the verge of capturing the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Donbas region.

Podolyak posted a wish-list of weapons on Twitter, which included requests for 1,000 howitzers, 1,000 drones and 500 tanks. He said this would give Ukraine "parity" with Russian forces.

He stressed that Ukraine is increasing dependent on Western weapons because it is running out of ammunition for its aging Soviet-era arsenal. Additional ammunition for those weapons is not widely available outside of Russia.

Ukraine has been transitioning to NATO equipment in recent years, but Podolyak says it takes European buy-in for Ukraine to fully transition to more modern systems which are made and sold worldwide.

But as long as the Russians have an advantage in artillery by a ratio of 10-to-1 or more, Ukraine will continue to struggle on the battlefield, he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
Julian Hayda