Rescuers search for survivors at an apartment building hit by a rocket in Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region
Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Russia accused the West of wanting to inflict a lasting defeat against Moscow and lashed out against EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is in Kyiv ahead of a Ukraine summit.
Her trip came as Russian President Vladimir Putin was expected to attend World War II commemorations in southern Russia, on the 80th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in Stalingrad.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the European Union and specifically the European Commission chief had called for Russia to be defeated so its economy would be devastated for decades.
“Is this not racism, not Nazism – not an attempt to solve ‘the Russian question’” Lavrov added, evoking Russia’s victory against Nazi Germany in World War II.
Map showing the situation in Ukraine, as of February 2 at 0800 GMT
The European Commission chief announced she had arrived in Kyiv with a team of commissioners and the bloc’s most senior diplomat Josep Borrell earlier on Thursday, a day before a Ukraine-EU summit in the war-torn country.
“We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation,” she wrote in a tweet.
In recent weeks, Von der Leyen has said that Europe must prevail in the face of Russia’s aggression and that unprecedented EU sanctions have left its economy facing a “decade of regression”.
Last week, the French foreign ministry denied that France or its allies were fighting a war against Russia, following a Western decision to send heavy tanks to Ukraine.
- ‘How could I leave?’ -
Lavrov’s comments Wednesday echoed Putin who has frequently drawn parallels between what he calls Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and the Soviet war against Nazi Germany.
The Russian leader launched his invasion in Ukraine in February last year, saying Russia needed to “de-Nazify” the country.
Putin was expected in the southern Russian city of Volgograd for grand commemorative events marking Russia’s victory against Nazi Germany during the battle for Stalingrad eight decades ago.
Ukrainian servicemen dig a trench near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region
Von der Leyen’s trip comes after Kyiv raided homes of an oligarch and public officials in Kyiv as part of efforts to appease the EU on corruption concerns.
Kyiv expanded its clampdown by launching coordinated searches of residences linked to divisive oligarch Igor Kolomoisky and a former interior minister as well as tax offices in the capital.
“Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in the conditions of war, must clearly understand that we will put handcuffs on him,” security services chief Vasyl Maliuk said.
The high-level political meeting in Kyiv takes place as Russian forces press Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donetsk region, now the epicentre of fighting.
Moscow has been trying to seize control of Bakhmut in the industrial region for months in what has become the longest and bloodiest battle of the invasion.
Remaining residents in the war-scarred town told AFP they will not budge if the Russians arrive.
“How could I leave?” said 75-year-old Natalia Shevchenko.
She said she spends so much time sheltering from bombardments in her basement that she feels “like a mole” as she steps out into the light and her eyes adjust.
“Don’t worry,” she told AFP as shells whistled in the background. “They’re far away. I’ve now learnt where they’re going.”