Kyiv Diary: European leaders bear witness to war’s horror

Kyiv Diary: European leaders bear witness to war's horror
Before meeting Ukraine’s president, three European leaders took a tour of the devastation wrought by Russia

Before the pomp, the ceremony and the serious meetings about war, the three European leaders witnessed the devastation wrought by Russia. A must. To understand Ukraine’s fight for survival, they had to see it themselves, with their own eyes.

The blown up buildings. The smashed cars. And a message of hope spray-painted on a damaged building despite mounting Ukrainian deaths.

French President Emmanuel Macron spotted it immediately amid the ruins Thursday.

“Look at that, ‘Make Europe, not war,’” Macron said, pointing and reading the words out loud in English. “It’s very moving to see that.”

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy had a walking tour of Irpin, a small city which bore the full brunt of Russia’s failed assault on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in the first weeks of the war. The tour preceded a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

If the three hadn’t fully grasped the scale of horror produced by the Russian invasion – horrors visited on their own countries in World War I and World War II — then Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Premier Mario Draghi have no excuses now.

Standing out in their suits and ties amid the heavily armed soldiers guarding them, they heard from a Ukrainian government minister how Russian soldiers fired indiscriminately at families in cars and how the blowing up of bridges had blocked escape routes, locking people in a furnace of death and fighting.

“How many cities do you have in such a situation?” Macron asked.

“Hundreds,” Oleksiy Chernyshov, Ukraine’s minister for communities and territories development, replied.

“They were shooting into the families, children, women” as they tried to flee the fighting, the minister said. ”They were just deliberately killing people inside the cars.”

Macron wanted to understand how troops could do such things.

“How do you explain this?” he asked.

Chernyshov explained that some of the killers appeared to have been ordinary young soldiers and others appeared to have been special forces from the Caucasus region, which lies between the Black and Caspian seas..

“We have hundreds of these cases, I am sorry to say. They are still going on,” he said.

The devastated buildings with their innards blown out that the chancellor, the premier and the president walked past are just a fraction of the destruction in Ukraine after nearly four months of fighting.

The official said more than 12,000 apartment buildings have been destroyed so far. Add to that electricity substations, heating plants, roads, bridges, schools, churches.

“You name it,” the minister said. “A lot of things to be rebuilt.”

The leaders wanted to know more.

How was the Russian advance going now? Scholz asked.

Macron wanted to know whether additional forces were being massed in Belarus, posing another possible threat to Ukraine.

“We think yes,” Chernyshov said.

Macron was clearly moved. He called Irpin, which Ukrainian forces retook as Russian troops retreated from around Kyiv, “a heroic town.”

“This is where the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army,” he said.

The French leader said Irpin bore “the traces of barbary.”

“Massacres were carried out.” he said. “We have the first traces of what are war crimes.”

So now they know: With their own eyes.


Follow AP‘s coverage of the Ukraine war at http://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine