Zelensky visits France after EU honours Ukraine’s fight ‘for Europe’


Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky landed in Paris on Sunday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, after accepting a prize for his country’s fight for “European ideals” during a visit to Germany.

“Paris. With each visit, Ukraine’s defence and offensive capabilities are expanding,” Zelensky tweeted as he arrived on Sunday evening at the airbase of Villacoublay southwest of Paris.

“The ties with Europe are getting stronger, and the pressure on Russia is growing.”

Macron shortly afterwards welcomed Zelensky to the Elysee Palace, for the second time since the Ukraine crisis started in February last year.

The French leader’s office said the pair would discuss France’s “support” in responding to “Ukraine’s urgent military and humanitarian needs” during a dinner at the presidential palace.

Macron would “reaffirm the unwavering support of France and Europe for restoring Ukraine’s legitimate rights and defend its fundamental interests”, it added.

Zelensky’s arrival in Paris came just hours after EU leaders in Germany hailed the Ukrainian people for fighting for the bloc’s freedom and values, handing this year’s award for service towards European unity to the war-torn country’s president.

“Ukraine incarnates everything the European idea is living for: the courage of convictions, the fight for values and freedom, the commitment to peace and unity,” said EU chief Ursula von der Leyen at the Charlemagne award ceremony in the western city of Aachen.

“President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for the values and the obligation that this prize embodies. And in doing so, they are also fighting for our own freedom and our values,” she said in a message echoed by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

For German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Russia’s war on its neighbour had “cemented one clear realisation: Ukraine is part of our European family”.

Zelensky received the prize while on his first trip to Germany since the crisis started, a day after meeting Italian leaders and Pope Francis in Rome.

The weekend diplomatic tour comes ahead of an EU summit in Reykjavik and a gathering of G7 leaders in Japan.

Zelensky won extended standing ovations at the Aachen ceremony, during which EU leaders also vowed to support Ukraine along its road to joining the bloc.

Calling Germany a “true friend and reliable ally” to Ukraine, Zelensky held separate talks with Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Berlin on Saturday unveiled a new military package for Kyiv worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), its biggest yet for Ukraine and hailed by Zelensky as a “powerful support”.

“Now is the time for us to determine the end of this war this year. This year, we can make the aggressor’s defeat irreversible,” said the Ukrainian leader.

Anticipating the president’s arrival in Aachen, several hundred Ukraine supporters rallied holding blue balloons and wearing yellow-and-blue flags around their shoulders.

Olga Zelenska, 37, told AFP she came to show her support for her country.

“We are proud,” she said, when asked about the Charlemagne award.

On the front line, Kyiv said Ukrainian forces had captured more than 10 Russian positions on the outskirts of the flashpoint town of Bakhmut.

Russia admitted that two of its military commanders had been killed in combat near the town, where fighting has been raging for days.

In a rare announcement of losses on the battlefield, Russia’s defence ministry said the commander of the 4th motorised rifle brigade, Vyacheslav Makarov, and Yevgeny Brovko, deputy commander of the Army Corps for military-political work, had been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The head of Russia’s private Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin again accused the Russian army of inaction around Bakhmut.

In a post published by his press service, Prigozhin slammed the “airborne forces” of not backing his men as the defence ministry had claimed.

“I didn’t see them… I don’t know where they are and who they are helping,” said Prigozhin.

Elsewhere, Moscow said Russian forces had struck Western arm depots and Ukrainian troops in the western city of Ternopil and the eastern town of Petropavlivka.