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KYIV: The leaders of France, Germany and Italy are expected to visit Kyiv on Thursday, a day after the United States announced $1 billion worth of new arms for embattled Ukrainian forces.

Kyiv’s troops are resisting a fierce onslaught in the Donbas region by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces, which are pushing to seize a swathe of eastern and southern Ukraine.

In a show of support, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi are expected in Kyiv.

While there has been no official announcement about the trip, Macron is already in the region, having visited two of Ukraine’s neighbours – Romania and Moldova – in recent days.

Speaking in Romania Wednesday after meeting French troops stationed there, Macron said that “we, the European Union, need to send clear political signals to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who have been resisting heroically for several months”.

Italian and German media have reported that Draghi and Scholz will visit Kyiv, and the three European leaders are reportedly set to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

It will be the leaders’ first visit since Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, and comes as Kyiv pushes to become a member of the European Union.

Draghi has strongly supported EU sanctions against Moscow over the war, and has also backed Ukraine’s hopes of joining the bloc.

25% of Ukraine’s arable land lost to war: Kyiv

The European Commission has said it will give recommendations on Kyiv’s membership prospects soon. France holds the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of this month.

Other leading figures to have visited Ukraine since the start of the war include British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UN chief Antonio Guterres.

‘Stand by Ukraine’

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden unveiled the new US arms package, featuring howitzers, ammunition, anti-ship missile systems, and additional rockets for new artillery systems that Ukraine will soon put in the field.

Biden said that he told Zelensky in a phone call Wednesday that “the United States will stand by Ukraine as it defends its democracy and support its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.”

“The bravery, resilience, and determination of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire the world.”

Fighting in eastern Ukraine is focused on the industrial city of Severodonetsk, and the Russians appear close to consolidating control after weeks of intense battles.

Moscow’s forces have destroyed the three bridges spanning a river between the city and Lysychansk just to the west, which is “likely to isolate the remaining Ukrainian defenders within the city from critical lines of communication,” according to the US Institute of War.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a Severodonetsk chemical plant, which is under constant bombardment, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Russia said it had sought to establish a humanitarian corridor Wednesday to evacuate them, but that Ukrainian forces “cynically scuppered” the operation and prevented it from going ahead.

From an elevated position in Lysychansk, an AFP team saw black smoke rising from the chemical factory in Sevorodonetsk and another area in the city.

The Ukrainian military was using the high ground to exchange fire with Russian forces across the river.

Seeking more arms

In Brussels, Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov and other officials met with some 50 countries of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at NATO headquarters asking for a surge in weapons and ammunition.

“Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore, it’s an urgent need to step up,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told journalists.

Top US defence officials defended the pace of arms deliveries while stressing that some weapons Kyiv wants require weeks of training before they can enter battle.

“We really are focused on what the leadership believes that its current needs are in this fight,” said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“And I think that the international community has done a pretty good job of providing that capability. But it’s never enough.”

Putin meanwhile underscored that he was not as isolated internationally as his foes would wish with a call with China’s Xi, their second reported call since Russian attacked Ukraine.

China has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Russia by criticising Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.

The United Nations warned a hunger crisis that has been worsened by the war in Ukraine, traditionally a breadbasket to the world, could swell already record global displacement numbers.

Addressing the food insecurity crisis is “of paramount importance… to prevent a larger number of people moving,” the United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told reporters.

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