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European leaders return safely after Kyiv visit amid attacks

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The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia safely returned to Poland on Wednesday after a visit to Kyiv intended to show support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s military onslaught.

The leaders met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday to convey a message of solidarity with Ukraine and of support for the nation’s aspirations to one day join the European Union.

They went ahead with the hours-long train journey despite concerns about risks to their security while traveling through a war zone.

All three countries are members of the European Union and NATO. Although pronouncing their trip to be an EU mission, officials in Brussels cast it as something the three leaders had undertaken on their own. NATO’s secretary-general said it was good for allies to engage closely with Zelenskyy, but also didn’t clearly endorse it.

At home, they won widespread praise, hailed as brave for traveling into a war zone when other Western leaders dare not. There were some, however, who criticized the leaders of NATO states for making a risky trip that was largely symbolic without a clear international mandate.

For his part, Zelenskyy voiced his appreciation for the show of support from members of the EU, which he hopes Ukraine will one day be able to join.

Prime Ministers Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic and Janez Jansa of Slovenia were joined by Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski — the chief of the ruling conservative party and the country’s most powerful leader.

The leaders crossed safely by train back into Poland on Wednesday morning. They then had a phone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel, according to Fiala. He tweeted a photo of the three prime ministers sitting around a phone as they informed Michel about the “results of the mission in Kyiv.”

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer didn’t criticize the visit, but said that “solidarity is expressed in different ways through different channels.”

“Our solidarity with Ukraine is absolute. It has been repeated on numerous occasions. But more importantly, it is extremely tangible,” he said, citing the bloc’s financing for refugees and military equipment. “And I can assure you that this solidarity is very well understood by the Ukrainian authorities.”

At a news briefing late Tuesday in Kyiv, Kaczynski said he believed that a NATO peacekeeping mission is needed in Ukraine.

He suggested that “a NATO peacekeeping mission is needed, possibly some wider international structure, but a mission that will also be able to defend itself and that will operate in Ukraine.”

The remark generated some discussion in Poland on Wednesday, with some commentators saying the prospect could risk drawing NATO into a war with Russia.

Morawiecki’s chief-of-staff, Michal Dworczyk, insisted Wednesday, however, that neither Poland nor anyone else is talking about getting involved in the war.

Dworczyk told Polish Radio 24 that it is “an appeal not only to Europe but to the whole free world, to work out a solution that would realistically have the ability to suppress the Russian aggression.”

Dworczyk said a solution “must be discussed at the North Atlantic alliance level.”

In Slovenia, where Jansa’s right-wing SDS party faces a parliamentary election on April 24 amid decreasing popularity, some saw the trip as a public realtions stunt.

The Ukrainian crisis “comes in handy for Jansa to improve his image in front of his voters and divert attention from domestic political debates,” wrote the independent Vecer newspaper in a commentary on Wednesday.

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