A Ukrainian woman stands next to a memorial for the dozens of people killed during the Maidan protests a decade ago – Copyright AFP AHMAD GHARABLI
Olivier BAUBE with Martin ANTON and Victoria LUKOVENKO
EU chief Charles Michel and Germany’s defence minister arrived in Kyiv Tuesday, becoming the latest officials to throw their weight behind Ukraine, making surprise visits on the 10th anniversary of the historic Maidan protests.
A flurry of recent trips from senior Western officials have sought to reassure Kyiv of continued military and political support, as the world’s attention shifts to the Middle East and questions emerge over US funding for Ukraine.
“Good to be back in Kyiv, among friends,” Michel, the president of the European Council posted on social media, alongside a picture of him descending from a train.
Berlin’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius was also in Kyiv, meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Rustem Umerov at military training grounds where they oversaw sniper drills.
“I am here again, firstly to pledge further support, but also to express our solidarity and deep bond and also our admiration for the courageous, brave and costly fight that is being waged here,” Pistorius said earlier, laying flowers at Maidan square in central Kyiv.
– ‘A victory of courage’ –
President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this week met with the Pentagon’s chief, who announced another $100 for military aid, and last week hosted UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who promised continued British backing.
The visits come in the wake of a disappointing Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east of the country that Kyiv launched this summer after building up stockpiles of Western weapons.
Ukraine however has recently claimed to have recaptured several kilometres of land on the east bank of the Dnipro river, which is the defacto frontline in the south of the country.
But Russia’s defence minister dismissed those claims on Tuesday saying his troops had thwarted Ukrainian attempts to land on the occupied bank in the Kherson region, and said Kyiv’s army had suffered “colossal losses”.
The Tuesday visits, which also included an announced trip from Moldovan leader Maia Sandu Zelensky, fell on the 10th anniversary of massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Kyiv that Zelensky linked to Russia’s invasion.
The protest movement — in which around 100 civilians died in violent clashes with security forces in the capital — ultimately led to the ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
“The first victory in today’s war took place. A victory against indifference. A victory of courage. The victory of the Revolution of Dignity,” Zelensky said in a statement marking the 10-year anniversary of the months-long protest movement.
– ‘It was a coup’ –
The Maidan protests erupted in late 2013 when Yanukovych ditched an association agreement trade deal with the European Union and the protests precipitated the separatist fighting in the east of the country.
Zelensky praised his country’s progress towards gaining European Union membership since Russian forces launched a fully-fledged invasion in February 2022.
“Year after year, step by step, we do our best to ensure that our star shines in the circle of stars on the EU flag, which symbolises the unity of the peoples of Europe. The star of Ukraine,” he said.
The EU’s executive recommended earlier this month opening formal membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova and suggested that the bloc’s 27 member states should grant Georgia candidate status.
The Kremlin however described the Maidan protests as an attempt to topple the government with the backing of foreign powers.
“It was a coup. It was an overthrow of the authorities that was sponsored from abroad. Things need to be called by their names,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.
He said Russia’s goal was to push ahead with its invasion of Ukraine, after last year announcing the unilateral annexation of four Ukrainian territories, over which it still does not have full military control.
The United Nations said on Tuesday that more than 10,000 people, including more than 560 children, had been killed and over 18,500 wounded since Russia invaded.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine noted that the real figure was likely to be “significantly” higher, given complications in verifying deaths.