The leaders of France, Germany and Italy visited Kyiv today for the first time since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal invasion of Ukraine. Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron (centre), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (left) travel on board a train bound to Kyiv after departing from Poland on June 16
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The leaders of France, Germany and Italy arrived in Kyiv today for the first time since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal invasion of Ukraine, amid accusations the trio have dragged their feet over providing support to the embattled country.

The show of European backing came as Ukrainian troops in the eastern city of Severodonetsk refused Moscow’s demands to lay down their arms, and as Russia presses its brutal offensive in the east of the country.

Fears are growing for the hundreds of civilians trapped inside the city’s Azot chemical factory after Putin’s troops destroyed three bridges leading out of the city that could have provided an escape route.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in the Ukrainian capital by train from Poland.

They then visited Irpin, a battle-ravaged suburb of Ukraine’s capital where horrific atrocities were carried out by Russian troops. 

Journalists on the scene said the European leaders had arrived to the town north of Kyiv, where residential buildings and civilian infrastructure remain damaged following Russian troops’ attempts early in the invasion to capture the capital.

Macron said there are signs of war crimes in the Kyiv suburb following ‘massacres’ by Russian forces, and denounced the ‘barbarism’ of the attacks that devastated the town. He praised the courage of residents of Irpin and other Kyiv region towns who held back Russians forces from attacking the capital.

Asked by a journalist why he had come to Ukraine, Macron said: ‘It’s an important moment. It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians, of support, to talk both about the present and the future, since the coming weeks, as we know, will be very difficult.’

Scholz told German daily Bild that they ‘want to show not only solidarity, but also assure that the help that we’re organising – financial, humanitarian, but also, when it comes to weapons – will continue’.

‘And that we will continue it as long as it is necessary for Ukraine’s fight’ against Moscow, he said.

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy visited Kyiv today for the first time since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal invasion of Ukraine. Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron (centre), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (left) travel on board a train bound to Kyiv after departing from Poland on June 16

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy visited Kyiv today for the first time since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal invasion of Ukraine. Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron (centre), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (left) travel on board a train bound to Kyiv after departing from Poland on June 16

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (L) French President Emmanuel Macron (C), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (2R) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (R) visit Irpin on June 16

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (L) French President Emmanuel Macron (C), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (2R) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (R) visit Irpin on June 16

It is the first time that the leaders of the three European Union countries have visited Kyiv since Russia’s February 24 invasion. 

They are due to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, at a time when Kyiv is pushing to be given official candidate status to join the EU.

Macron in particular has been criticised over comments he made last week in which he said Ukraine and the West should not ‘humiliate’ Russia, and offer Putin a way out of the conflict through negotiations.

He said last week: ‘We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means.’ He added: ‘I am convinced that it is France’s role to be a mediating power.’

Ukraine and other allies rebuked Macron for what they perceived as his ambiguous backing for Ukraine in the war against Russia. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmitro Kuleba hit back, saying Macron’s position ‘can only humiliate France’.

The recently re-elected French president has since made efforts to strengthen his public messaging, and he appeared to take a tougher line on Wednesday.

‘The Ukrainian President and his officials will have to negotiate with Russia,’ he said on Wednesday during a visit to Ukraine’s neighbour Romania.

An aerial view shows destroyed houses after strike in the town of Pryvillya at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 14, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine

An aerial view shows destroyed houses after strike in the town of Pryvillya at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 14, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine

Flying helicopters of the Ukrainian army are seen as Russian attacks continue, on June 15

Flying helicopters of the Ukrainian army are seen as Russian attacks continue, on June 15

France – which holds the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of this month – Germany and Italy view Ukraine’s aspirations to join the bloc favourably.

But officials and leaders in the bloc caution that, even with candidacy status, membership could take years or even decades.

Despite reservations among some member states, EU leaders are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status, though with strict conditions attached.

Other leading figures to have visited Ukraine since the start of the war include British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UN chief Antonio Guterres.

Ukraine is also expected to reiterate its pleas for allies to send more weapons, with officials saying only a fraction of what they have asked for has so far been delivered.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden announced $1 billion worth of new arms for Ukrainian forces.

The new package features howitzers, ammunition, anti-ship missile systems, and additional rockets for new artillery systems that Ukraine will soon put in the field.

Biden said that he told Zelensky in a phone call Wednesday that ‘the United States will stand by Ukraine as it defends its democracy and support its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.’

‘The bravery, resilience, and determination of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire the world.’

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk (left) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron as he arrives at Kyiv train station on June 16 after travelling with German Chancellor and Italian Prime Minister from Poland

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk (left) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron as he arrives at Kyiv train station on June 16 after travelling with German Chancellor and Italian Prime Minister from Poland

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the train station, in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 16

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the train station, in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 16

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrives at his hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 16

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrives at his hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 16

Fighting in eastern Ukraine is focused on the industrial city of Severodonetsk, and the Russians appear close to consolidating control after weeks of intense battles.

Russia this week issued a ‘surrender or die’ ultimatum to troops defending a key Donbas city, which has been ignored by Kyiv’s forces holding out in the city.

The Ukrainian defenders were ordered to stop their ‘senseless resistance and lay down arms’ from Wednesday morning, with Moscow’s armies now controlling round 80 percent of the key strategic city.

However, The Guardian reported that the embattled troops have continued to fight back against the foreign invaders.

Sergiy Gaiday – the governor of the Lugansk region, which includes the city – said Thursday around 10,000 civilians remain trapped in the city, out of a pre-war population of some 100,000.

Kyiv’s army is ‘holding back the enemy as much as possible,’ he said on Telegram. ‘For almost four months they have dreamt of controlling Severodonetsk… and they do not count the victims.’

Moscow’s forces have destroyed the three bridges spanning a river between the city and Lysychansk.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a Severodonetsk chemical plant, which is under constant bombardment, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Russia claimed Ukrainian authorities had on Wednesday prevented an attempt at evacuating them.

From an elevated position in Lysychansk, an AFP team saw black smoke rising from the chemical factory in Severodonetsk and another area in the city.

The Ukrainian military was using the high ground to exchange fire with Russian forces across the river.

‘It’s scary, very scary,’ 83-year-old Lysychansk pensioner Valentina said. ‘Why can’t they agree at last, for God’s sake, just shake hands?’

It was claimed on Thursday by a women who said she had escaped from the factory that many English-speaking volunteer fighters are hiding inside the plant.

A woman called Anna told a Russian state TV channel: ‘There were lots of mercenaries, speaking English. Speaking (some) foreign languages.’ He claims could not be immediately verified.

Russia has accused other foreign fighters of being mercenaries when they are in fact legitimate members of the Ukrainian military. They have used captured foreign fighters for propaganda purposes.

The woman said she had been told by Ukrainians on 9 June not to leave the shelter until evening because ‘cleansing’ was underway. She said: ‘We left the shelter June 10. We walked from the shelter, then my husband picked us up.’ 

She is now in a Russian-run refugee camp.

Russia claims it expects to detain more British and US so-called ‘mercenaries’ as its invasion moves into Kyiv-held territory.

British fighters Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, along with Moroccan Brahim Saadun, were convicted last week of acting as mercenaries for Ukraine by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and sentenced to death.

Elsewhere, Russia launched a missile strike in Ukraine’s northeast Sumy region, killing four people and injuring six others, governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said on Telegram.

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a French self-propelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun Caesar towards Russian positions at a front line in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 15

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a French self-propelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun Caesar towards Russian positions at a front line in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 15

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 14

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 14

Smoke rises after a military strike on a compound of Sievierodonetsk's Azot Chemical Plant where hundreds of civilians are believed to be sheltering, Ukraine June 10

Smoke rises after a military strike on a compound of Sievierodonetsk’s Azot Chemical Plant where hundreds of civilians are believed to be sheltering, Ukraine June 10

In Brussels Wednesday, Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov and other officials met with some 50 countries of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at NATO headquarters asking for a surge in weapons and ammunition.

‘Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore, it’s an urgent need to step up,’ NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told journalists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile underscored that he was not as isolated internationally as his foes would wish with a call with China’s leader Xi Jinping, their second reported call since Russia attacked Ukraine.

China has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Russia by criticising Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.

The United Nations warned a hunger crisis that has been worsened by the war in Ukraine, traditionally a breadbasket to the world, could swell already record global displacement numbers.

Addressing the food insecurity crisis is ‘of paramount importance… to prevent a larger number of people moving,’ the United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told reporters.

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