Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the European Union to prove that it sides with Kyiv as it battles invading Russian forces, a day after signing an official request to join the bloc.
“We are fighting to be equal members of Europe,” Zelenskyy told an emergency session of the European Parliament on Tuesday via video link.
“Do prove that you are with us. Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans and then life will win over death and light will win over darkness,” he said in Ukrainian in a speech translated to English.
“The EU will be much stronger with us.”
Zelenskyy has remained in Kyiv to rally his people against the invasion.
As he spoke on Tuesday, a Russian armoured column was bearing down on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
Emotion gripped the parliament during his speech, with Zelenskyy’s interpreter talking through tears as he translated the Ukrainian president’s plea.
EU legsialtors, many wearing #standwithUkraine T-shirts bearing the Ukrainian flag, others with blue-and-yellow scarves or ribbons, gave Zelenskyy a standing ovation.
“We are (with you),” European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said in response to Zelenskiy’s appeal, saying the EU would provide Ukraine with weapons, on top of slapping unprecedented sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last week.
“And we will be with you to rebuild your beautiful country after your victory,” he said.
‘It’s going to be difficult’
Zelenskyy officially signed Ukraine’s request to join the EU on Monday.
The presidents of eight central and eastern European nations published an open letter calling for Ukraine to be granted immediate EU candidate status and for the start of formal membership talks.
Ukraine is well aware, however, that any membership process will be long and difficult, even if it manages after the war to avoid falling back under Moscow’s domination.
Charles Michel, the chairman of EU leaders, told the EU Parliament after Zelenskiy’s speech that the bloc would have to seriously look at Ukraine’s “legitimate” request to join.
But he added: “It is going to be difficult, we know there are different views in Europe (about further enlargements).”
The EU has taken unprecedented steps, including financing weapons deliveries to Ukraine, after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin launched a war on its neighbour last week.
Moscow has called its actions in Ukraine a “special operation”.
The European Parliament on Tuesday adopted a non-binding resolution – by 637 votes to 13, with 26 abstentions – calling for tougher sanctions “aimed at strategically weakening the Russian economy and industrial base, in particular the military-industrial complex”.
While Putin “recalls the most dreadful statements of 20th century dictators”, Zelenskiy is being “heroic”, they said.
The European Parliament also urged EU leaders to be tougher on oligarchs and officials close to Putin, restrict oil and gas imports from Russia, ban Russia and its ally Belarus entirely from the SWIFT bank messaging system, and to close all EU ports to Russian ships or ships headed to or from Russia.
However, EU lawmakers rejected an amendment calling Russia a “rogue state”.
“The message from Europe is clear. We will stand up, we will not look away when those fighting in the street for our values stand down Putin’s war machine,” EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola said, speaking in front of the EU and Ukrainian flags.
So far, at least 136 civilians, including 13 children, have been killed and 400 others, including 26 children, injured in Ukraine, according to UN figures.
More than 660,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries, the UN Refugee Agency said on Tuesday.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine had had the effect of uniting countries against Russia.
“If Putin was seeking to divide the European Union, to weaken NATO, and to break the international community, he has achieved exactly the opposite,” von der Leyen told the EU Parliament, a blue and yellow ribbon pinned to her jacket.