Friedrich Merz, the leader of Germany's conservative opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), arrived in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday. The trip was largely seen as an opportunity to upstage Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the rival Social Democrats (SPD).
Merz visited the city of Irpin, outside of Kyiv, which is now back under Ukrainian control. After meeting with the mayor, Merz said he "impressed upon me in very moving words, what happened here. What the victims here have suffered, but also what an incredible effort they made," to protect their city.
"I think it is our duty in Germany to help this country and to help cities like Irpin to rebuild."
Merz also made a surprise visit to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A spokesman described the meeting as "extraordinarily good, both in atmosphere and in content."
The CDU leader later met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. Shmyhal wrote on Twitter that during the meeting he "stressed the importance of strengthening sanctions and supporting Ukraine's candidate status for EU membership. Thanked for the military help and support of Ukraine."
Merz was voted leader of the CDU — the party of former Chancellor Angela Merkel — in January, after several previous unsuccessful attempts. The CDU had recently lost its first federal election in 16 years to Scholz's new coalition.
Scholz has been heavily criticized for hestitating for weeks before allowing Germany to send heavy equipment to Ukraine and for eschewing a trip to Kyiv himself. For his part, the chancellor has said that his decision was due to the Ukrainian government's refusal to allow German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also of the SPD, to come to Kyiv. Ukraine objected to his former ties with Russia and his failure to heed warnings from Eastern European neighbours about the threat of Russian aggression during his time serving as foreign minister.
Kyiv has since clarified that Scholz is welcome to visit any time should he chose to do so. Ukrainian Ambassador to Berlin Andriy Melnyk called Scholz's decision "not very statesman-like" and accused the chancellor of behaving like he was in "kindergarten."
Merz publicized his journey to Kyiv on Twitter, including his stay in a sleeper train car the night before his arrival:
es/nm (AP, dpa)