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Ukraine: Germany's foreign minister visits embattled Kharkiv

January 10, 2023

Annalena Baerbock again condemned Russia's aggression during her trip to the front line city. She said she wanted to get a picture of the wartime situation on the ground in the region.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Kharkiv
Baerbock, accompanied by Ukrainian officials, gazed upon the destruction in the cityImage: Xander Heinl/photothek/picture alliance/dpa

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Kharkiv, Ukraine on Tuesday, becoming the first German Cabinet member to survey the war-torn eastern city. 

During her visit, she condemned Russia's attacks on the city, while vowing solidarity and support for Ukrainians. She was accompanied on the trip by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Oleksii Makeiv, among other officials.

Hours after Baerbock's visit, Kharkiv was shelled by Russian forces, the region's governor Oleh Synyehubov said on Telegram. He also encouraged inhabitants to remain in shelters.

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Baerbock said her visit to Kharkiv was an attempt to get a picture of the situation on the ground. She had traveled to Ukraine via an overnight train from Poland, as Ukrainian airspace remains closed. 

"Above all, I want to listen to the residents, who are being so hard hit by the war in this bitterly cold winter, when temperatures are currently dropping in the night to -15 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit)," Baerbock said. 

DW correspondent Max Zander, who was accompanying Baerbock on the visit, said the German foreign minister wanted to draw attention to "the consequences for critical infrastructure" such as power, heating and water amid frequent Russian attacks.

Baerbock's trip included a visit to a children's hospital and the ravaged northeastern district of Saltivka. Kharkiv lies roughly 50 to 60 kilometers (roughly 31 to 37 miles) south of Russia. 

She said she wants all of Ukraine, "from Kharkiv to Kherson to Kyiv," to know they "can rely on our solidarity and support."

Baerbock surveys the destruction in embattled Kharkiv, speaking with Ukrainian officials
Kharkiv has witnessed frequent Russian attacks since the invasion started in February, but Moscow has thus far failed in its efforts to capture the cityImage: Jörg Blank/dpa/picture alliance

Baerbock pledged new aid such as power generators and blankets to Ukraine, along with "further arms deliveries." 

She said Ukrainians need these weapons "to free its citizens who are still suffering under the terror of Russian occupation."  

The German foreign minister also offered other types of help to Ukraine, as it seeks to join the European Union. 

"As the government, we want to make very concrete offers to Ukraine in order to strengthen the rule of law, independent institutions and the fight against corruption, as well as in aligning in EU standards," Baerbock said.  

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Ukraine presses for Leopard 2 tanks, despite German reluctance

The visit follows Germany's decision to deliver Marder infantry vehicles to Ukraine. Some German politicians have called for Berlin to go further and send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, but the German government has thus far ruled out such a request.   

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pressed for Leopard 2 tanks during the Baerbock visit, saying "the longer it takes to make the decision, the more people will die."

"I have no doubt that Ukraine will receive German Leopard tanks. I think the German government somewhere deep down understands that this decision will be made and the tanks will be transferred to Ukraine," Kuleba said.   

The trip to Kharkiv is Baerbock's third visit to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February.

In May, she visited Bucha in the Kyiv metropolitan area, where a massacre of civilians took place. She also made a second visit to Kyiv in September, as an attempt to counter potential war fatigue in Germany amid the protracted conflict. 

wd/msh (AFP, dpa) 

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