Germany and Italy pledged continued military and other support to Ukraine as it endured more heavy fighting and missile strikes, and at least four of Russia’s fighter jets and attack helicopters were reportedly shot down over its own territory.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy met top Italian officials and Pope Francis in Rome on Saturday and German leaders on Sunday in Berlin, a day after it unveiled a €2.7 billion aid package to Kyiv that will include tanks, air defence systems, artillery guns and drones.
“I have often said this, and I will repeat it here: We will support you for as long as it is necessary,” said German chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Ukraine is ready for peace. But it demands, rightly and with our support, that this cannot mean to freeze the war and have a form of dictated peace by Russia.”
Mr Zelenskiy said “any peace plan will be based on Ukraine’s proposals,” and told Mr Scholz that if allies gave Kyiv enough military and other support, “we can make the aggressor’s defeat irreversible already this year.”
He also dismissed fears in some quarters that his forces could use western weapons to attack Russia and risk a further escalation in a conflict that has killed 10s of thousands of people and displaced millions since the Kremlin’s all-out invasion began in February 2022.
“We have neither the time nor the strength ... and we also don’t have weapons to spare,” he said. “We are preparing a counterattack for the illegally occupied areas based on our constitutionally defined legitimate borders, which are recognised internationally.”
After talks with Mr Zelenskiy in Rome, Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni denounced Russia’s “brutal and unjust aggression,” pledged support to Kyiv for “as long as is necessary”.
“You can’t achieve peace through a surrender. It would be a very grave precedent for all nations of the world,” she said. “The future of Ukraine is a future of peace and freedom. And it’s the future of Europe ... for which there are no other possible solutions.”
After meeting Pope Francis, Mr Zelenskiy said he was “grateful for his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians. I spoke about 10s of thousands of deported Ukrainian children. We must make every effort to return them home.”
He also asked the pope “to condemn Russian crimes in Ukraine. Because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor.”
The Vatican said they discussed the “humanitarian and political situation” in Ukraine and that the pope had “assured his constant prayer” for the country.
Russia’s defence ministry said it had thwarted repeated attacks by Kyiv’s troops around the partially occupied city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, and had hit Ukrainian arms and fuel depots in other regions with missile strikes over the weekend.
In a rare admission of battlefield losses, Moscow said senior officers Col Vyacheslav Makarov and Col Yevgeny Brovko, a commander and deputy commander of their units respectively, had been killed in fighting near Bakhmut.
Russian media reported that two fighter jets and two attack helicopters were shot down “almost simultaneously” on Saturday in Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine. Video posted on social media showed at least two of the aircraft tumbling from the sky, but Moscow’s military did not reveal the cause of the crashes.
“There is already talk about a third helicopter, so five in total, perhaps. It seems they ran into some trouble,” said Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat. Kyiv usually declines to comment on the cause of Russian losses far behind the front line.