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UKRAINE

EU eyes more Ukraine arms aid and big Russia sanctions

The European Union on Friday eyed an extra 500 million euros in military support for Ukraine and fresh sanctions on Russia, as Moscow's war spurred vows to bolster the bloc's defences.

Ukraine servicemen praying
Servicemen of Ukraine's Azov Battalion pray in the Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 11, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP)

EU leaders meeting for a summit in France’s Palace of Versailles described Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as a wake-up call for the 27-nation bloc to take a tougher approach to ensuring its security.

“There’s no denying the fact that two weeks ago we woke up in a different Europe, in a different world,” European Council chief Charles Michel said.

The EU’s executive put forward a proposal to double its financing for sending weapons to Ukraine to one billion euros as the West scrambles to back Kyiv’s forces in the face of the Kremlin’s onslaught.

The bloc last month broke a longstanding taboo by agreeing to pay for arms deliveries to Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of his pro-Western neighbour.

The move was part of a broad push by Ukraine’s allies to send weapons amid desperate pleas from Kyiv for air defence systems after calls to impose a no-fly zone were rebuffed.

Alongside further arms supplies, EU leaders also said they were readying a fresh round of economic punishment as they look to keep up pressure on Putin over the bloodshed.

The West has already hit Moscow with a barrage of unprecedented sanctions but the EU has so far failed to agree to follow the US lead in hitting Russia’s key oil and gas exports.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would talk to Putin again in the coming hours with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Macron warned the Kremlin leader of further “massive sanctions” if he steps up the bombing or seeks to besiege Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

“In that case, nothing is off the table, nothing is taboo,” Macron said.

“We will do whatever we deem to be effective and useful to halt Russia in its aggression.”

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen later said on Friday the bloc would ban the export of luxury goods to Russia, striking a “direct blow to the Russian elite”.

On Thursday, she said the 27 leaders agreed to explore ways to eliminate the bloc’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels in five years.

‘Invest more’
As the EU has broken new ground in sending arms abroad, it has also been shocked into reconsidering its approach to security after decades relying on US-led NATO to ensure Europe’s defences.

Leaders agreed in a declaration “to increase substantially defence expenditures” and bolster cooperation on military projects between member states.

“We must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies,” the declaration said.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the bloc was looking at issues such as whether to “procure common capabilities, for example, that are too expensive for any individual state to buy on their own.”

She also called for all EU members states — six of which are not in NATO — to mirror the military alliance’s commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence.

Collective security in the European Union is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s biggest military power, has been spearheading calls for an enhanced role for the bloc.

The assault on Ukraine has now prompted some about-turns.

Germany tore up decades of policy by agreeing to send weapons to Ukraine after the start of the war and has pledged an extra 100 billion euros ($110 billion) to help improve its armed forces.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said countries were acting “dangerously” by backing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

Long road to EU
The EU leaders on Thursday doused Ukraine’s hopes of quickly gaining European Union membership, saying it was a long-term process, not a “fast-track”.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said in a video message after Friday’s talks that Ukraine wanted the EU “to be more ambitious” in its commitments regarding possible membership.

But he insisted: “We Ukrainians know for 100 percent that Ukraine will be a member of the European Union,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of time.”

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Member comments

  1. NATO is old school cold war alliance but a new and improved EU army could work at addressing the security concerns of the bloc and even neutral countries could get behind it.

  2. NATO is old school cold war era alliance but an EU alliance could address the security concerns of the bloc inc with neutral countries.

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UKRAINE

German hospital reunites Ukrainian patients and medics

The University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) in northern Germany has so far cared for around 500 Ukrainian patients at its sites, as well as accommodating 61 nursing staff from Ukraine.

German hospital reunites Ukrainian patients and medics

Four Ukrainian flags are flapping in the cold northern wind outside the university hospital (UKSH) in Luebeck on Germany’s Baltic coast.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian nurses and doctors at this ultra-modern facility have been treating patients from their home country.

Originally from Chernivtsi, close to Ukraine’s border with Romania, Oleksandra Shaniotailo, 31, was taken on as a nurse two months ago.

“I am waiting for my nursing degree to be recognised,” she tells AFP in her newly acquired German.

“In Ukraine, I worked for 11 years in a hospital,” says the young woman, who is waiting to meet the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How is Germany supporting refugees from Ukraine?

Young refugees

On the fringes of a meeting of G7 foreign ministers a few dozen kilometres away from Luebeck, Ukraine’s top diplomat has come to visit the hospital, where 61 young refugees have been taken on as nursing staff.

Between selfies with the guest of honour, the new team members share their patriotic support with Kuleba.

“I am working in outpatient care for five months before starting a four-month course for my degree to be recognised,” says Anastasiia Demicheva, 20, from the same town in Bukovina.

The fragile young woman, whose make-up barely hides her pale complexion, is serving meals to patients, bathing them or helping them walk up and down the corridors of the vast hospital, which employs some 2,000 medics between Luebeck and the more northern city of Kiel.

In parallel, Anastasiia is taking German courses to be able to speak fluently with her patients.

The Ukrainian foreign minister also visits the bedsides of the Ukrainian patients who have been transferred to the hospital.

“We have cancer patients whose chemotherapy has been interrupted” by the war, UKSH president, Jens Scholz, 63, tells AFP. Among them is Oleg Kovalenko, whose cancer was diagnosed in Kyiv. With a sallow face and wearing his yellow hospital gown, he tells the visiting minister how grateful he is to be receiving treatment in Germany.

‘Thank you’

“It’s an enormous privilege,” he says in Ukrainian, before saying “danke” (“thank you”) in German. The hospital is also hosting Ukrainian children who need major surgery or suffer from cardiac problems.

“We’ve taken on nearly 500 Ukrainian patients” since the end of February, says Scholz.

When war came to Ukraine, the hospital sent equipment and medicine to hospitals in Lviv, Zhytomyr and Ivano-Frankivsk. More than three million euros ($3.1 million) of aid have been, while a fifth support package of respiratory equipment, beds and operating equipment is ready to be sent to Ukraine on May 19th.

Behind the Ukraine partnership, first established in 2014, are a man and wife from the country who work at the hospital, employed as a surgeon and a biologist, respectively.

READ ALSO: ‘Could have been us’: Why British-German couple took in Ukrainian refugees

“I’ve been here for 12 years and have become the head of transplants” at the hospital, Hryhoriy Lapshyn, 40, tells AFP. From Germany “I can better help people in Ukraine than I could if I had stayed,” he says.

The young Ukrainians who have just arrived will become nurses. “Ukraine will benefit, too,” he says.

The pair do not hide the pain they feel seeing the horrors which have descended on their country, dismissing critics who say they should be working with war-wounded in Ukraine.

“My heart bleeds,” says Olha Lapshyna, her voice trembling. “I ask myself often what I am doing here. Why do I have the privilege of being here while other women stayed in Ukraine?”

“Sometimes there are no more emotions, just things to do,” her husband adds, saying he has been caught in a whirlwind since the start of the war. “You have to help people. You get calls non-stop.”

On his swift tour through the hospital, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister pays homage to their work. “War is not only soldiers who are fighting,” Kuleba says. “I’m very touched that you found the role that you can play” in this war, he says.

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