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An aerial view of a residential area destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine. AP/PA Images

Polish president offers full support for Ukraine EU bid

However, France’s Europe minister on Sunday said it could take “15 or 20 years” before Ukraine joined the bloc.

LAST UPDATE | 22 May 2022

POLAND’S PRESIDENT HAS pledged full support for Ukraine’s EU membership bid, saying those who “shed their blood” for Europe must be respected.

Andrzej Duda’s comments contrasted with the reservations of EU heavyweights France and Germany, who have warned Ukraine’s application would not be fast-tracked despite Russia’s invasion.

However, France’s Europe minister on Sunday said it could take “15 or 20 years” before Ukraine joined the bloc.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Duda said those who “shed their blood” to belong to Europe must be respected, “even if the situation is complicated, even if there are doubts”.

“I have no doubt that the European Union will make such a gesture,” he added, saying the European Council’s decision on Ukraine’s candidate status on 24 June would be “extremely important, above all psychologically and politically”.

Addressing the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv, Duda said he would not let up his efforts as long as Ukraine remained outside the bloc and that a successful membership bid would be thanks to Warsaw.

Poland has welcomed by far the highest number of Ukrainian refugees and has been Kyiv’s main supporter within the European Union.

In contrast, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday denounced the “second-class treatment” Kyiv has received from some EU countries.

End to ‘business as usual’

Duda also said “business as usual” with Russia was impossible after the alleged mass killings of Ukrainian civilians and war crimes blamed on Moscow’s forces.

Hundreds of civilian bodies have been found in towns near Kyiv previously occupied by Russian troops such as Bucha and Borodianka.

The southeastern port city of Mariupol lies in ruins after a weeks-long Russian siege that Ukrainian authorities say killed at least 20,000 civilians.

“After Bucha, Borodianka, Mariupol, there cannot be ‘business as usual’ with Russia,” Duda told the Ukrainian parliament, in the first such speech by a foreign head of state since war began on February 24.

“An honest world cannot return to business as usual while forgetting the crimes, the aggression, the fundamental rights that have been trampled on,” the Polish head of state added.

Duda expressed regret that some European countries have asked Ukraine to “accept certain demands” from Russian President Vladimir Putin for their economic interests or political ambitions.

Speaking in the presence of Zelensky and interrupted by several standing ovations, he warned that the most minor concession of Ukrainian territory or sovereignty would be a “big blow” for Ukraine and the West.

“Only Ukraine has the right to decide its future… There cannot be negotiations or decisions taken behind Ukraine’s back,” Duda said, lauding the country for defending Europe against a “barbarian invasion and the new Russian imperialism”.

Zelensky thanked Duda for “his visit, his support and his true friendship” in an Instagram post.

Diplomatic breakthrough

Zelenskyy has warned only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory can end Russia’s war on his country, while pushing its case for EU membership.

He also appealed for more military aid, even as US President Joe Biden formally signed off on a $40-billion package of aid for the Ukrainian war effort.

That call came just hours after Russia claimed to have destroyed a cache of Western-delivered arms in the country’s northwest.

Zelenskyy also insisted his war-ravaged country should be a full candidate to join the EU, rejecting a suggestion from France’s President Emmanuel Macron and some other EU leaders that a sort of associated political community be created as a waiting zone for a membership bid.

“We don’t need such compromises,” Zelenskyy said yesterday during a joint news conference with visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

“Because, believe me, it will not be compromise with Ukraine in Europe, it will be another compromise between Europe and Russia.”

Zelenskyy, who will speak to the world’s political and business elite at the exclusive Davos forum via videolink tomorrow, told Ukrainians in a televised address: “There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table.”

The war “will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy”.

“Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will decidedly take place. Under what format I don’t know,” he added.

But he promised that the result would be “fair” for Ukraine.

Incessant fighting

Kopytsa said both her home and life had been destroyed during the fighting in the port and that “children at maternity wards were dying of hunger”.

The once-bustling Azov Sea port city has lived without electricity since early March and has now been reduced to a wasteland, the carcasses of charred buildings stand amid the lush greenery of tree-lined streets and parks.

The incessant fighting of the previous weeks has died down, and the Russian army and its separatist allies now patrol the streets.

Elena Ilyina, who used to teach at a university in Mariupol, sobbed as she told AFP about her life, saying her apartment has been destroyed and she now lives with her daughter.

“I have nothing left,” the 55-year-old said. “I’d like to live in my apartment, in peace, go to work and talk to my children.”

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