European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Ukraine’s town of Bucha on Friday (April 8), the site where Ukrainian officials have said hundreds of civilians have been found dead since Russian troops pulled back from last week.
Von der Leyen along, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and EU’s Josep Borrell, was taken to a site of a mass grave behind the church in Bucha.
“It is the unthinkable has happened here. We have seen the cruel face of Putin’s army. We have seen the recklessness and cold heartedness with which they have been occupying the city. Here in Bucha we saw our humanity being shattered and it is, the whole world is mourning with the people of Bucha, and they are the ones, who are, as you said, defending the border of Europe, defending humanity, defending democracy and therefore we stand with them in this important fight,” she said.
Ukraine and several Western governments have accused Moscow of war crimes after the bodies of civilians shot at close range were found in the town of Bucha following a Russian withdrawal.
The Kremlin denies its forces were responsible for the deaths and said on Tuesday (April 5) that Western allegations Russian forces committed war crimes were a “monstrous forgery.”
The European Commission chief and the EU’s top diplomat arrived in Kyiv on Friday (April 8) to offer Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy support and reassurance over his bid for EU membership in a capital gradually reviving after Russia pulled back forces.
Travelling by train from Brussels to Kyiv, von der Leyen told reporters the most important message she was bringing to Zelenskiy was that there “will be the EU path” for Ukraine.
Six weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she pledged her support for Kyiv to “emerge from the war as a democratic country”, something, she said, the European Union and other donors would help with.
It was a message echoed by Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, who also told reporters the visit was a signal that “Ukraine is in control of its territory” and the government was still in charge.
He also said the trip would allow the bloc to outline the measures the EU has taken to “isolate Russia” over its invasion of Ukraine, a war Moscow describes as a “special operation” to “denazify” its neighbour.
Zelenskiy rejects Moscow’s assertion, and says the war raging in parts of his country for the last six weeks is a direct attack on not only Ukraine’s existence, but also on the security of Europe as a whole.
As the EU leaders were poised to arrive, more than 30 people were killed and over 100 wounded in a Russian rocket strike on a railway station in east Ukraine as civilians tried to evacuate to safer areas, the state railway company said.
Moscow’s incursion has seen more than 4 million people flee abroad, killed or wounded thousands and reduced cities to rubble though Russian forces have failed to take any major cities.
Zelenskiy has urged Brussels to do more to punish Russia, including banning purchases of oil and gas from the country, and has called on the EU to accept Ukraine as a full member.
Borrell and von der Leyen are the latest Western leaders to visit Kyiv after the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic travelled to meet Zelenskiy last month.