European leaders visit Ukraine in show of support

STORY: A show of support among the rubble in Irpin, after French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Ukraine early on Thursday (June 16).

Kyiv hopes their visit brings concrete action.

All three leaders are seeking to overcome Ukraine's criticism of their response to its fight against Russia's invasion.

Irpin was one of the main hotspots of fighting with Russian troops in the north before they pulled back to intensify their offensive in the east.

Ukraine says Russia committed large-scale atrocities here, which Russia denies.

Macron called the town "heroic" and said there were signs war crimes were committed.

The French president has been criticized at home and abroad for not going to Ukraine earlier. He has repeatedly said he would only go if and when the visit could be "useful" and not just symbolic.

The trio arrived together by train in a show of unified solidarity, but it remains to be seen what concrete steps they bring.

"A message of unity we're sending to the Ukrainians, yes, of support, to speak about today but also the future because we know the weeks to come will be very difficult."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wants his visitors to deliver more arms to help his hard-pressed army withstand the Russian invaders.

Kyiv has accused France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, of foot-dragging: being slow to deliver weapons and putting their own prosperity ahead of Ukraine's freedom and security.

Ukraine has been particularly critical of Germany's military aid and wants Scholz to hand over heavy weapons that have been promised but not yet delivered.

Scholz has dismissed allegations he has held back, saying Germany was one of the biggest military and financial backers of Ukraine.

Kyiv officials have also expressed fears of pressure to accept a peace deal favorable to Russia, which calls its invasion a "special military operation".

The Kremlin said the leaders' visit shouldn't only focus on supplying weapons. It's "absolutely useless," spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, and will prolong suffering and cause further damage.

The European Union's executive is expected to propose on Friday (June 17) that Ukraine become a formal candidate for membership, diplomats and officials say.

That would be a significant political gesture to Ukraine, but it's also something EU leaders are divided on.

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