KYIV: Top European Union officials arrived in Kyiv on Thursday for talks with Ukrainian officials as rescue crews dug through the rubble of an apartment building in eastern Ukraine struck by a Russian missile, killing at least three people and wounding about 20 others.
The scene of devastation in the eastern Donetsk provincial city of Kramatorsk, where emergency workers spent the night searching for survivors after the missile hit late Wednesday, served as a grim reminder of the war's toll almost a year after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has frequently struck apartment buildings during the war, causing civilian casualties, although the Kremlin has denied targeting residential structures.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was due to meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell before what officials described as a summit on Friday.
Borrell tweeted that the visit aimed to convey the EU's strongest message of support to all Ukrainians defending their country.
EU assistance for Ukraine, he said, has reached 50 billion euros (USD 55 billion) since the start of Russia's war on February 24.
Europe stood united with Ukraine from day one. And will still stand with you to win and rebuild, Borrell tweeted.
It was Von der Leyen's fourth visit since the invasion. The last such summit was held in Kyiv in October 2021 a few months before the war started.
Ukraine's anti-corruption drive was expected to be on the agenda of the talks. Kyiv's long path toward potential membership in the 27-nation bloc will be a key issue under discussion, with stamping out corruption a key condition for joining.
Von der Leyen tweeted, We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation.
Zelenskyy on Wednesday took aim at corrupt officials for the second time in the space of a week. Several high-ranking officials were dismissed.
Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft.
The latest corruption allegations came as Western allies are channelling billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight Moscow's forces and as the Ukrainian government is introducing reforms so it can potentially join the EU one day.
Ukraine's government is keen to get more Western military aid, on top of the tanks pledged last week, as the warring sides are expected to launch new offensives once winter ends. Kyiv is now asking for fighter jets.
US President Joe Biden has ruled out providing F-16s to Ukraine. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday during a trip to the Philippines that the focus of American aid is to increase Ukraine's military capabilities by sending artillery, armour, air defence and providing training to Ukrainian troops.
The US is focused on providing Ukraine the capability that it needs to be effective in its upcoming anticipated counteroffensive in the spring, Austin said.
And so we're doing everything we can to get them the capabilities that they need right now to be effective on the battlefield, he said....