KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ahead of the ceremony and serious war meetings, European leaders witnessed the devastation wrought by Russia. An essential. To understand Ukraine’s struggle for survival, they had to see it for themselves, with their own eyes.
Exploded buildings. Broken cars. And a message of hope spray-painted on a damaged building despite rising Ukrainian deaths.
French President Emmanuel Macron immediately spotted him amid the ruins on Thursday.
“Look at this, ‘Make Europe, not war,'” Macron said, pointing and reading the words aloud in English. “It’s very moving to see that.”
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania took a walking tour of Irpin, a small town that bore the brunt of Russia’s failed assault on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in the first weeks of the war. The tour preceded a meeting in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who met them dressed in military green trousers, a matching t-shirt and sneakers.
If the four had not fully grasped the magnitude of the horrors inflicted by the Russian invasion, devastation like that visited across much of Europe during World War I and World War II, then Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis have no more excuses now.
The leaders traveled by night train to the Ukrainian capital as flights are not possible in wartime airspace where missiles, drones, fighter jets and helicopters have rained death and destruction . Iohannis, whose country has been a key destination for Ukrainian refugees, traveled separately from others.
Standing in their suits and ties amid heavily armed soldiers guarding them, they heard from a Ukrainian government minister how Russian soldiers fired indiscriminately at families in cars and how exploding bridges had blocked escape routes, locking people in a furnace of death. and the fights.
“How many cities do you have in such a situation? asked Macron.
“Hundreds,” replied Oleksiy Chernyshov, Ukraine’s minister of community and territorial development.
“They were shooting at families, children, women” as they tried to flee the fighting, the minister said. “They were deliberately killing people inside the cars.”
Macron wanted to understand how troops could do such things.
“How can you explain that?” He asked.
Chernyshov said some of the killers appeared to have been ordinary young soldiers and others appeared to have been special forces from the Caucasus region, located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Moscow has deployed fighters from Chechnya, known for their ferocity, to Ukraine.
“We have hundreds of these cases, I’m sorry to say. They still continue,” he said.
The devastated buildings with blown innards that the chancellor, prime minister and presidents passed represent only a fraction of the destruction in Ukraine after nearly four months of fighting.
The official said more than 12,000 apartment buildings have been destroyed so far. Add to that electrical substations, heating plants, roads, bridges, schools, churches.
“You name it,” the minister said. “A lot of things to rebuild.”
The leaders wanted to know more.
How was the Russian advance going now? Scholz asked.
Macron wanted to know if additional forces were massed in Belarus, posing another possible threat to Ukraine.
“We think so,” Chernyshov said.
Macron was clearly moved. He called Irpin, which Ukrainian forces recaptured as Russian troops retreated from around Kyiv, a “heroic city”.
“That’s where the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army,” he said.
The French leader said Irpin bore “traces of barbarism”.
“Massacres have been perpetrated.” he said. “We have the first traces of what are war crimes.”
So now they know: With their own eyes.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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