European leaders’ risky Kyiv mission took even close family by surprise

By Robert Muller, Jan Lopatka and James Mackenzie

PRAGUE/KYIV (Reuters) -When headlines flashed on Tuesday morning that the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have been on a prepare to Kyiv for talks with the Ukrainian president, it was information to some members of their rapid households.

The journey to a metropolis below siege, the place Ukraine’s navy is combating invading Russian forces just some kilometres from the periphery, was unexpectedly organized and recognized solely to a couple folks.

Public pronouncements by the leaders and by a participant and a diplomatic supply who spoke privately level to an arduous and dangerous diplomatic mission that underlined the sense of urgency amongst European international locations to finish the struggle.

Whereas different European leaders have been knowledgeable of the proposed journey throughout a summit in Versailles final Friday, solely a small variety of international locations have been immediately concerned.

The three that ultimately took half are deeply suspicious of how Moscow views nations as soon as below its affect earlier than the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, considerations which were heightened by its invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24.

Greater than 3 million folks have additionally fled Ukraine within the final three weeks, almost 2 million of them into neighbouring Poland.

Requested in regards to the hazard concerned, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala instructed reporters on Wednesday after his return from Ukraine that he believed it was well worth the danger.

“There are conditions the place you need to resolve for your self, and I made the choice I made,” the 57-year-old stated.

“I used to be not alone, I had colleagues – the prime ministers, I had colleagues from my group and from the safety service who have been keen to finish the journey with me.”

He instructed his spouse about his plans, however requested her to not inform his mom or three kids.

“They discovered about it when it was revealed.”

With him in Kyiv have been Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Slovenian counterpart Janez Jansa and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, highly effective chief of Poland’s ruling social gathering.

They travelled on a particular prepare from Poland’s japanese border into Ukraine on Tuesday morning. By the point the journey turned public, they have been on their approach to the capital.

A social media publish on Wednesday confirmed Fiala in a flak jacket and helmet, a cell phone and standing between two beds in a slender, rudimentary sleeping compartment.

It was not clear whether or not Russia knew of the go to.

Fiala posted on his Fb web page that the worldwide group was knowledgeable of it through worldwide our bodies just like the United Nations.

Polish Deputy Overseas Minister Pawel Jablonski stated the contributors didn’t focus on it immediately with Moscow prematurely.

“We want to have someone credible to debate issues with in Russia however Russia is not an affordable companion for any discussions,” he stated on Wednesday.

The Kremlin didn’t instantly reply to a request for touch upon whether or not it had been made conscious of Tuesday’s mission and had agreed to supply protected passage.


A European diplomatic supply stated the plan was first talked about to Charles Michel, European Council president, on the sidelines of the Versailles summit.

Morawiecki then let Michel and European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen know on Monday that they supposed to journey the next day, based on a EU official. There was no European mandate.

It isn’t clear who else was approached to affix them. French President Emmanuel Macron was not requested, based on the diplomat, and nor was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a spokesman stated.

Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger consulted his safety companies about it, a authorities spokeswoman stated, however was strongly suggested to not go.

On the morning the 4 politicians and their small entourage of advisers and safety personnel crossed into Ukraine, at the very least 5 folks had been killed in air strikes and shelling of Kyiv as Russia’s assault intensified.

Town’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, declared a 35-hour curfew from Tuesday night, saying that the capital was going through a “harmful second”.

1000’s of individuals have been killed within the battle. Russia calls its actions a “particular operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine, a cost Kyiv rejects as a false pretext to invade.

One participant within the mission, who declined to be recognized because of the sensitivity of the go to, stated the prepare journey took some 10 hours and that darkness had fallen by the point they reached Kyiv.

The delegation was taken in vans via largely empty streets to the presidential palace, the place they waited for round 4 hours to see President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. They weren’t allowed their cellphones throughout this era.

After the assembly, which lasted about 2.5 hours, they addressed a small group of reporters earlier than departing again for Europe, and the participant stated they most likely bought round three hours’ sleep throughout the entire journey.

In line with a Reuters witness, on the palace sandbags have been piled up at numerous factors and closely armed Ukrainian safety personnel escorted the delegation with flashlights alongside darkened corridors to keep away from making the constructing a goal.

Dressed casually, the leaders gave a press convention during which they expressed assist for Ukraine’s push to affix the European Union and admiration for the nation’s resilience.

“The primary message of our mission is to say you aren’t alone. Europe stands together with your nation,” Fiala stated.


Whereas the mission had many admirers, some EU sources stated it raised eyebrows amongst some member states who apprehensive {that a} main incident involving the delegation may have dragged them nearer into direct confrontation with Russia.

Polish state media, which broadly helps Kaczynski’s PiS social gathering, and Morawiecki himself have drawn parallels between the Kyiv mission and a visit made by Kaczynski’s late twin brother Lech to Georgia in 2008 throughout tensions with Russia.

Lech Kaczynski, then Poland’s president, got here below hearth close to a breakaway Georgian province backed by Moscow, and lashed out towards what he known as Russian “imperialism”.

“There’s at all times one other step. Should you enable imperialists, there are at all times extra international locations in line,” the president’s aide instructed Polish tv on the time.

Lech Kaczynski died when his aircraft crashed in thick fog over western Russia in 2010.

Radek Sikorski, a European parliamentarian for the principle Polish opposition social gathering Civic Platform, criticised Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s participation within the Ukraine mission, saying on Twitter that it smacked of a PR stunt.

Slovakian premier Heger’s defence minister, Jaroslav Nad, took to Fb to defend his chief’s determination to not be part of the journey, after a media backlash.

“I stand behind … Heger and say repeatedly that this was the best determination,” he wrote.

It’s unclear whether or not the mission may have a major impression on the struggle. Kaczynski proposed sending a world peacekeeping mission to Ukraine, however the thought doesn’t seem to have gained rapid traction in talks between Kyiv and Moscow.

The symbolism of the journey, nevertheless, was not misplaced on Zelenskiy, who has vowed to repel the Russians and urged the West to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Noting that many ambassadors had left Kyiv, he stated the visiting leaders have been “not afraid of something.”

(Reporting by Robert Muller, Jan Lopatka and James Mackenzie; further reporting by Alan Charlish and Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw, Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Michel Rose in Paris and John Chalmers in Brussels; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Modifying by Rosalba O’Brien)

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