Ukraine should be given candidate status for European Union membership, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and Mario Draghi affirmed on Thursday during a visit to Kyiv.
Granting the status to Ukraine is "a strong, quick, expected gesture of hope and clarity that we want to send to Ukraine and its people," the French leader said during a joint press conference following a meeting with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the late afternoon.
He stressed however that the status would be accompanied by a "roadmap" that would include "conditions".
The leaders of France, Germany, and Italy arrived in Kyiv after a 10-hour train journey from south-east Poland for their first visit to the war-torn country - a delay that had drawn criticism at home and in eastern EU member states. Also with them in the Ukrainian capital was Romanian president Klaus Iohannis.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been criticised for the lack of German arms deliveries to Ukraine, had said the visit was "to show our solidarity" and to "ensure that the aid we organise, financial, humanitarian, but also when it comes to weapons, will continue (...) as long as it is necessary for the fight for Ukraine's independence", in an interview with the daily Bild given during their train journey.
In a visit to Irpin, one of the suburbs of Kyiv devastated at the start of the war by Russian troops on the capital, the French president defended himself against any "ambiguity" in his support for Kyiv, having been heavily criticised for saying that Russia should not be "humiliated".
He said Ukraine must be able to resist and prevail against the Russian army. "France has been at Ukraine's side since day one (...) we stand by the Ukrainians without ambiguity," he said.
Leaders visited town of Irpin
Like other European leaders who came to Kyiv before them, the leaders strolled through the streets of Irpin, stopping in front of buildings destroyed by the fighting or a burnt-out car, asking questions to their guide, Ukrainian Minister of Decentralisation Oleksiï Chernychov.
Both Macron and Scholz have been criticised for their regular phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
In a joint phone call they held with Putin in late May they stressed that "any solution to the war must be negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," according to a read-out from the Elysée.
They renewed calls for a ceasefire and "insisted" to their Russian counterpart "on the urgency of lifting the blockade of Odesa in order to allow the export of Ukrainian cereals via the Black Sea and to avoid a world food crisis."
In a bid to quell this criticism, both Macron and Scholz pledged to support Ukraine financially and militarily for as long as necessary on Thursday. Macron also announced that France will send six additional Caesar truck-mounted artillery systems in the coming weeks, adding to the 12 already delivered.
The French leader also defended his repeated calls with Putin since the beginning of Russia's invasion on 24 February, saying they aimed "to try to get concessions" and "to move the food security agenda forward".
"At some point, in some form, this conflict will have to end," he went on, emphasising that "the modalities will only be decided by Ukraine and its representatives".
"Neither Germany nor France will be in a position to negotiate for Ukraine," he added.
Zelenskyy was expected to reiterate Ukraine's request for more heavy weaponry to repel Russian advances in the east at today's meeting.
His adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said earlier this week that "to end the war we need heavy weapons parity" including hundreds of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), tanks, armoured vehicles and drones.