European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has told Ukraine that the European Union stands by her 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 evidence of possible war crimes was found earlier this week after Russian troops, who had controlled the Kyiv suburb for several weeks, withdrew after Moscow’s unprovoked Invasion had started on February 24th.
After touring the area where dozens of bodies were found strewn on the streets, some with their hands tied behind their backs, along with mass graves and the destruction of much of the city’s infrastructure, von der Leyen lit candles at a church for the the victims.
“It was important to start my visit to Bucha. Because in Bucha our humanity was shaken,” she said in a tweet. “My message to the Ukrainian people: those responsible for the atrocities will be brought to justice. Your fight is our fight.”
She then held a briefing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which she promised to expedite Kiev’s application for EU membership and handed him a questionnaire to start the process.
“It won’t be a matter of years, as usual, to form that opinion [on membership]but I think a matter of weeks,” she said, pledging to keep up economic and diplomatic pressure on Moscow.
“Russia will plunge into economic, financial and technological decline while Ukraine marches towards a European future. I can see that,” said von der Leyen.
Russia has denied committing any atrocities in Bucha.
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Von der Leyen, the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell and Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger arrived in Kyiv on April 8 for talks with Zelenskyy. The three European leaders started by train from the small town of Przemysl in southern Poland, 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, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, visited the city.
The West has tightened sanctions against Russia following international condemnation of the apparent executions of civilians in the streets of Bucha, a northern Kyiv suburb.
Local officials say more than 300 people have been killed and about 50 executed by Russian forces in Bucha. Moscow denies the allegations.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has announced that he will set up a war crimes tribunal against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in view of the mounting evidence of alleged atrocities.
Speaking in an interview with the German magazine The mirror “Everyone responsible for these crimes will have to explain themselves,” Steinmeier said on April 8.
“That includes soldiers. That includes military commanders. And of course those with political responsibility,” he added.
Zelenskyy said late April 7 that the situation in Borodyanka – another town northwest of Kyiv that was recaptured by Russian forces – was “significantly more dire” than in Bucha.
Borodyanka’s video showed search and rescue teams using heavy equipment to dig through the rubble of a collapsed building. It was feared that hundreds of people were buried.
On the battlefield, Ukraine says after Russia withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv, Russia is regrouping to try to gain full control of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have been held in part by Kremlin-backed separatists since 2014 will.
The besieged southern port of Mariupol, where more than 100,000 people were still trapped, according to the mayor, was also a target.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said on April 8 that Russian shelling of towns to the east and south is continuing and Russian forces have pushed further south from the town of Izyum, which remains under their control.
Ukraine said it intends to set up up to 10 humanitarian corridors on April 8 to evacuate trapped civilians, 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 located in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told BBC radio that NATO countries are ready to supply Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia for years to come, if necessary.
He said he could not comment on weapons systems being supplied by individual NATO countries, but said the impact of the weapons already being supplied to Ukraine was clearly seen.
“The allies are ready to provide even more and also more modern and heavier weapons,” he said.