European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has told Ukraine the European Union is by its side and will continue to support Kyiv by making Russian President Vladimir Putin pay a “heavy price” for his war.
Von der Leyen on April 8 became the first European leader to visit Bucha, where earlier this week evidence of possible war crimes was found in the wake of a retreat by Russian troops who had controlled the Kyiv suburb for several weeks after Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion on February 24.
After touring the area, where dozens of bodies were found strewn about the streets, some with their hands tied behind their backs, along with mass graves, and the destruction of much of the town’s infrastructure, von der Leyen lit candles in a church for the victims.
“It was important to start my visit in Bucha. Because in Bucha our humanity was shattered,” she said in a tweet. “My message to Ukrainian people: Those responsible for the atrocities will be brought to justice. Your fight is our fight.”
Afterward, she held a briefing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which she pledged to speed up Kyiv’s bid to join the EU, handing him a questionnaire to launch the process.
“It will not as usual be a matter of years to form this opinion [on membership], but I think a matter of weeks,” she said, pledging to keep up the economic and diplomatic pressure on Moscow.
“Russia will descend into economic, financial, and technological decay, while Ukraine is marching towards the European future. This is what I see,” von der Leyen said.
Russia has denied it committed any atrocities in Bucha.
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Von der Leyen, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, and Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger arrived in Kyiv on April 8 for talks with Zelenskiy. The three European leaders set off by train from the small southern Polish town of Przemysl, just 13 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The airspace over Ukraine is closed because of the war.
In mid-March the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic traveled to Kyiv by train. Last week, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola visited the city.
The West has tightened sanctions on Russia following international condemnation of apparent executions of civilians in the streets of Bucha, a northern suburb of Kyiv.
Local officials say more than 300 people were killed by Russian forces in Bucha, and around 50 of them were executed. Moscow denies the accusations.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said a war crimes tribunal against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov should be established amid the growing evidence of alleged atrocities.
Speaking in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel published on April 8, Steinmeier said that “anyone who has responsibility for these crimes will have to explain themselves.”
“That includes soldiers. That includes military commanders. And of course also those that have the political responsibility,” he added.
Zelenskiy said late on April 7 that the situation in Borodyanka — another town northwest of Kyiv retaken from Russian forces — is “significantly more dreadful” than in Bucha.
Video from Borodyanka showed search-and-rescue teams using heavy equipment to dig through the rubble of a building that collapsed. Hundreds of people were feared buried.
On the battlefield, Ukraine says after withdrawing from Kyiv’s outskirts, Russia is regrouping to try to gain full control of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been partly held by Kremlin-backed separatists since 2014.
The besieged southern port of Mariupol, where the mayor said over 100,000 people were still trapped, was also a target.
The British Defense Ministry said on April 8 that Russian shelling of cities in the east and south continues and Russian forces have advanced further south from the city of Izyum, which remains under their control.
Ukraine said it aimed to establish up to 10 humanitarian corridors to evacuate trapped civilians on April 8, but civilians trying to flee besieged Mariupol will have to use private vehicles.
The 10 planned safe corridors announced by Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk were all in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told BBC radio that NATO countries were ready to supply weapons to Ukraine for the fight against Russia for years to come, if necessary.
He said he could not comment on weapons systems supplied by individual NATO countries, but said that the impact of the weapons that had already been delivered to Ukraine was clear to see.
“Allies are ready to provide even more and also more modern and heavier weapons,” he said.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa, and Bild