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Times Of Israel
Times Of Israel
24 Feb 2024

NextImg:Western leaders arrive in Kyiv as Ukraine marks 2 years since Russia’s invasion

KYIV, Ukraine — Western leaders descended on Kyiv Saturday to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen traveled overnight to Kyiv by train along with Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

They arrived shortly after a Russian drone attack struck a residential building in the southern city of Odesa, killing at least one person. Three women also sustained severe burns in the attack Friday evening on a residential building, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on his social media account. Rescue services are still combing rubble looking for survivors.

The foreign leaders are in Ukraine to express solidarity as Ukrainian forces run low on ammunition and weaponry, and Western aid hangs in the balance.

“More than ever we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free,” von der Leyen said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, after she arrived in Kyiv.

Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Seven leading economies, announced that the group’s heads of state and government will meet virtually on Saturday, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky participating as well, and would adopt a joint statement on Ukraine.

This photograph taken on February 23, 2024 shows ‘The Wall of Remembrance of the Fallen for Ukraine,’ a memorial for Ukrainian soldiers, in downtown Kyiv. (Roman Pilipey/AFP)

Under Meloni, Italy has been a strong supporter of Ukraine. Saturday’s virtual meeting marks the first top-level G7 gathering of the Italian presidency; G7 heads of state and government are expected to meet in person in southern Puglia in June for their annual summit.

A somber mood hangs over Ukraine as the war against Russia enters its third year and Kyiv’s troops face mounting challenges on the front line amid dwindling ammunition supplies and personnel challenges. Its troops recently withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka, handing Moscow one of its biggest victories.

Earlier this month, Zelensky fired top military commander Valerii Zaluzhnyi, replacing him with Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, marking the most significant shakeup of top brass since the full-scale invasion.

Russia still controls roughly a quarter of the country after Ukraine failed to make any major breakthroughs with its summertime counteroffensive. Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians continue to live in precarious circumstances in the crossfire of battles, and many others face constant struggles under Russian occupation. Most are waiting for a Ukrainian liberation that hasn’t come.

Ukrainian artillery commander Oleksandr, aka ‘Kirik,’ smokes a cigarette at the firing position of his 2A36 Giatsint-B in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

Foreign officials are expected to descend on the capital to meet with Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials and express their continued support for the country as it fights Moscow’s troops and prepares for European Union membership.

In the US Congress, Republicans have stalled $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv, desperately needed in the short term. The EU recently approved a 50 billion euro (about $54 billion) aid package for Ukraine meant to support Ukraine’s economy, despite resistance from Hungary.

US President Joe Biden tied the loss of the defensive stronghold of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region after months of grueling battles to the stalled US aid. Fears have since spiked that Ukrainian forces will face similar difficulties across other parts of the 1000-kilometer (620-mile) front line as they come under mounting pressure from Russian assaults.