French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Kyiv Thursday morning, visiting the Ukrainian capital for the first time since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in a historic joint trip.
The three leaders took a night 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, since Paris, Berlin and Rome did not give official details on the highly anticipated trip.
“We’re here, focused, and we’re about to meet President Zelenskyy now to visit a war site where massacres have been committed, and then to lead the conversations that are scheduled with President Zelenskyy,” Macron said in comments to reporters at the train station in Kyiv.
The visit is “a message of European unity toward Ukrainians, and of support, [a message] about the present and the future because we know the weeks to come are going to be very difficult,” the French president added.
The European leaders visited Irpin, the suburb northwest of Kyiv where Russian invaders destroyed buildings and allegedly tortured and killed civilians during weeks of occupation before Ukrainian forces pushed them out.
They discussed the reconstruction of the town with Oleksiy Chernyshov, the Ukrainian minister for territorial development. Stopping in front of a building covered in graffiti which read “Make Europe not war,” Macron said “it’s very moving to see that.” “We will rebuild everything,” Draghi added, speaking to the press during the visit.
In Irpin, Macron also said that: “It’s both a heroic town because it is here that, amongst other places, the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army that was 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 is simply out to destroy and conquer” and of an ongoing invasion being continued “without regard for human life.”
A French diplomatic official told reporters that once Russia’s war is over, “a dialogue” between Moscow and Kyiv “will be needed 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 would be a military victory 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 from the leaders of the three largest EU economies carries important symbolic weight, especially ahead of a meeting of EU leaders next week, when they are set to decide whether to grant Ukraine candidate status to join the bloc. What Macron, Scholz and Draghi will say on the matter is still unclear.
During a visit on Wednesday to Moldova, which is also seeking EU candidate status, Macron kept the door open on both Kyiv and Chișinău’s prospects. “I want us to send a clear and positive signal, but we have to build unanimity among EU members. I don’t think we can dissociate Moldova from Ukraine in the prospects that we give,” he said.
“There’s no consensus for candidate status and there’s no consensus for no candidate status. But there seems to be consensus for a third way — candidate status with conditions,” a diplomat familiar with the topic 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.