KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania arrived in Kyiv on Thursday in a show of collective European support for Ukraine as it tries to resist Russia's invasion, marking the highest-profile visit to Ukraine's capital since Russia invaded its neighbor.
The French president's office said President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Premier Mario Draghi had traveled to Kyiv together, and that Romanian President Klaus Iohannis will join them there.
After getting off the train in Kyiv, Macron said they would visit sites where attacks occurred.
“It is an important moment,” he said. "It is a message of European unity toward Ukrainians.”
Macron said they will speak with Ukrainian officials about “both the present and the future.”
The European leaders are to meet with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The economies of France, Germany and Italy are the three largest in the EU.
The leaders arrived on a special overnight train provided by the Ukrainian authorities, and held long meetings in the dining car after midnight to align their positions ahead of meeting with Zelenskyy.
The visit carries heavy symbolic weight given that the three Western European powers have often faced criticism for not providing Ukraine with the scale of weapons that Zelenskyy has been begging them for, and for their willingness to keep speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin — something Baltic and Central European leaders have found unacceptable.
Hopes were high among Ukrainians that the visit could mark a turning point by opening the way to significant new arms supplies.
The visit comes as EU leaders prepare to make a decision June 23-24 on Ukraine's request to become a candidate for EU membership, and ahead of an important NATO summit June 29-30 in Madrid.
Also Thursday, NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels to weigh more military aid for Ukraine. On Wednesday, the U.S. and Germany announced more aid, as America and its allies provide longer-range weapons they say can make a difference in a fight where Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned by their Russian invaders.
On Tuesday, during a trip to Ukraine's neighbors Romania and Moldova, Macron said a “message of support” must be sent to Ukraine before EU heads of state and government “have to make important decisions” at their Brussels meeting.
“We are in a moment where we need to send clear political signals — we, Europeans, we the European Union — toward Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” he said.
Macron is deeply involved in diplomatic efforts to push for a cease-fire in Ukraine that would allow future peace negotiations. He has frequent discussions with Zelenskyy and has spoken on the phone several times with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Putin launched the invasion in late February.
Scholz had long resisted traveling to Kyiv, saying he didn’t want to “join the queue of people who do a quick in-out for a photo opportunity.” Instead, Scholz said a trip should focus on doing “concrete things.”
Germany on Wednesday announced that it will provide Ukraine with three multiple launch rocket systems of the kind that Kyiv has said it urgently needs to defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Germany will transfer three M270 medium-range artillery rocket systems along with ammunition to Ukraine.
Germany said the transfer, which echoes similar moves by Britain and the United States, will be accompanied by training and will have “a swift and significant battlefield impact.”