French President Emmanuel Macron, German Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Kyiv on Thursday morning, visiting the Ukrainian capital for the first time since the start of Russia’s invasion in a historic joint trip.
The three leaders took an overnight train to Kyiv, where they were greeted with air-raid sirens amid Russia’s ongoing invasion. They crossed into Ukraine from the Polish border, La Repubblica reported early Thursday, although their precise travel plans were unknown as Paris, Berlin and Rome gave no official details about the long-awaited trip.
“We are here, focused, and we are about to meet with President Zelenskyy now to visit a war site where massacres have been committed and then to lead the talks that are scheduled with President Zelenskyy,” Macron said in comments to reporters. at the railway station in Kyiv.
The visit is “a message of European unity towards the Ukrainians and of support, [a message] about the present and the future because we know that the next few weeks are going to be very difficult”, added the French president.
The European leaders visited Irpin, the northwestern suburb of Kyiv where Russian invaders destroyed buildings and allegedly tortured and killed civilians during weeks of occupation before Ukrainian forces drove them out.
They discussed the reconstruction of the city with Oleksiy Chernyshov, the Ukrainian minister of territorial development. Stopping in front of a building covered in graffiti reading “Make Europe not make war,” Macron said “it’s very moving to see that.” “We will rebuild everything,” added Draghi, speaking to the press during the visit.
In Irpin, Macron also said that: “It is a heroic city because it is here that, among other places, the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army descending on Kyiv, so you have to imagine the heroism of the army but also of the Ukrainian people.”
Scholz added that Irpin is an example of “the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which simply seeks to destroy and conquer” and of an ongoing invasion that continues “without regard to human life.”
A French diplomatic official told reporters that once the Russian war is over, “a dialogue” between Moscow and Kyiv “will be necessary to find out how we build a sustainable peace” with security guarantees for Ukraine, and the nature of the relationship between Ukraine and NATO.
The official added: “Zelenskyy must define what a military victory would be for him… We are in favor of a complete victory with the re-establishment of [Ukrainian] territorial integrity over all the territories that have been conquered by the Russians, including Crimea.”
The joint visit by the leaders of the EU’s three largest economies carries significant symbolic weight, especially ahead of a meeting of EU leaders next week, when they will decide whether to grant Ukraine candidate status to join the bloc. What Macron, Scholz and Draghi will say about it is not yet clear.
During a visit Wednesday to Moldova, which is also seeking EU candidate status, Macron kept the door open to prospects from Kyiv and Chisinau. “I want us to send a clear and positive signal, but we have to create unanimity among the members of the EU. I don’t think we can disassociate Moldova from Ukraine in the prospects we offer,” he said.
“There is no consensus for candidate status and there is no consensus for non-candidate status. But there seems to be a consensus for a third way: candidate status with conditions,” a diplomat familiar with the matter told Brussels Playbook.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis joined the three leaders in Kyiv, taking another route on Thursday morning.
This article was updated.
Chris Miller reported from Kyiv.