German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) says goodbye to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right), as he departs the Bellevue Palace on May 14, 2023, in Berlin.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Germany for its support as he met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday in his first visit to the country since Russia’s invasion.
Zelenskyy arrived in Berlin from Rome, where he met separately on Saturday with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Pope Francis. The pope indicated that the Vatican would help in the repatriation of Ukrainian children taken by Russians.
He flew on a German government plane escorted over German airspace by fighter jets of the Luftwaffe air force, arriving in the middle of the night.
“In the most challenging time in the modern history of Ukraine, Germany proud to be our true friend and reliable ally,” Zelenskyy wrote in the guest book of the German presidency. “Together we will win and bring peace back to Europe.”
Zelenskyy was expected to meet later with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his security cabinet before heading to Aachen in west Germany to receive the prestigious Charlemagne prize in honour of services to Europe.
Germany, which is Europe’s largest economy, faced criticism at the start of the war for what some called a hesitant response, but it has become one of Ukraine’s biggest providers of financial and military assistance.
The government announced 2.7 billion euro ($3 billion) of military aid to Ukraine on Saturday, its biggest such package yet since Russia’s invasion in February last year, and pledged further support for Kyiv for as long as necessary.
Zelenskyy hailed this as a “powerful package” in a tweet, indicating that he aimed to discuss weapons supply as well as air defence, reconstruction, Ukraine’s candidacy for membership of the European Union and security with German officials.
Zelenskyy last visited Germany for the Munich Security Council in February last year just before the war broke out.
Germany was constrained in its support for Ukraine at that time both by its energy dependence on Russia and a pacifism rooted in its bloody 20th century history.
This required a major policy upheaval and a shift in mindset that Scholz dubbed a “Zeitenwende” or turn of era, in a landmark speech just days after the war broke out.