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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A grateful Zelenskyy asks the European Union for more help, and fast

On his second trip abroad, the Ukrainian president asked the leaders of the European Union to begin talks this year for his country to join. Back home, he faces an intensifying fight on the eastern front.

By Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Monika Pronczuk

Met with a hero’s welcome in Brussels, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy concluded a whirlwind tour of Europe on Thursday by voicing gratitude for his allies’ help — and seeking more support as the war with Russia nears its second year.

Zelenskyy’s focus at a meeting with the leaders of all 27 European Union member states was not the longer-range missiles and aircraft that he pursued in London and Paris on Wednesday, but financial aid to run and rebuild his country.

He also renewed his push for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU, although joining the EU normally takes aspiring members more than a decade of work. Brussels, Belgium’s capital, hosts most of the EU’s key institutions.

The trip, only the second outside of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began, marked a significant moment in Zelenskyy’s efforts to keep up international support. Politicians, officials, staff members and the press lined the staircases and balconies at the European Parliament, applauding Zelenskyy as he walked through the labyrinthine building to address a packed hall.

He was visibly moved when the Ukrainian national anthem played at the Parliament, holding his hand over his heart. He then pressed his case that Ukraine belongs in the EU.

“This is our Europe,” Zelenskyy told EU lawmakers. “These are rules. This is our way of life.

“And for Ukraine, it’s a way home,” he said. “I’m here in order to defend our people’s way home.”

Zelenskyy was then whisked 1 mile away where the leaders of the EU member states were waiting for him. In an address, Zelenskyy called for continuous support for Ukraine.

He acknowledged Europe’s efforts to support Ukraine, including through sanctions on Russia, through military aid and by weaning itself off Moscow’s energy supply, but called for his allies to do more, including opening talks this year for his country to become the bloc’s 28th member.

“The fundamental steps have been taken,” he said. “But the road is long.”

Zelenskyy has addressed gatherings of world leaders, including EU meetings, often over the past year. But his tone for his in-person appearance was gentler than past video-streamed remarks in which he sometimes called out countries he felt were not doing enough to help Ukraine. The shift was a sign that his purpose in Brussels was to ask for a faster entry into the bloc and to show appreciation for the support he has already received.

In a news conference after addressing EU leaders, he thanked European people for continuing to back Ukraine despite the costs, including by hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees. The majority of governments are squarely behind Ukraine, but many also worry about continued public support amid a backdrop of recession and historically high inflation.

Zelenskyy described Ukrainians as fighting for their own freedom and for Europe’s.

“I hope that you understand that when you help Ukraine, you’re helping yourselves,” Zelenskyy said. “I would like to stress this is in the interest of all of us, not just Ukrainians, but all Europeans, that Russia should not make new missiles, that Russia should not attack our cities.”

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