Zelensky pays first visit to south Ukraine’s war-damaged Mykolaiv

With the war in Ukraine’s east raging on, Kyiv received a major boost when the European Union recommended that it become a candidate to join the bloc, in what would be a dramatic geopolitical shift following Russia’s invasion.

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KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the war-damaged southern city of Mykolaiv on Saturday for the first time since the Russian invasion in a rare trip outside Kyiv.

Zelensky’s office published a video of him looking at a badly damaged high-rise residential building in the city and holding a meeting with local officials.

His visit comes a day after a Russian strike killed two people and injured 20 in the city.

Mykolaiv has been targeted by Russian forces since the start of their invasion on February 24.

In the video Zelensky was shown damage to a residential building by local governor Vitaliy Kim.

The tall building had a gaping hole, with the inside of apartments visible.

A blue and yellow Ukrainian trident was seen in one of the shattered windows.

Zelensky also took part in a meeting with local officials in what looked like an underground basement, giving out awards for bravery.

His office said they “discussed the state of the economy, the restoration of water supplies and the situation in agriculture.”

“Special attention was paid to threats from land and sea. We do not stop working for victory,” the statement read.

Mykolaiv has been holding the defense of southern Ukraine, as it lies on the way to the key strategic Black Sea port of Odessa.

The city is around 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Kherson, which fell to Russian forces in the first weeks of the war.

The regional administrative building was hit by a Russian strike in March, tearing a hole through the center of the complex and killing more than a dozen people.

Zelensky has been based in Kyiv since Moscow invaded, making his first trip outside the capital to the eastern city of Kharkiv in late May.

With the war in Ukraine’s east raging on, Kyiv received a major boost when the European Union recommended that it become a candidate to join the bloc, in what would be a dramatic geopolitical shift following Russia’s invasion.

EU leaders are expected to endorse the EU executive’s recommendations for Ukraine and neighboring Moldova, announced on Friday, at a summit next week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that the bravery of Ukrainians had created the opportunity for Europe to “create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia.”

In his nightly address on national television, Zelensky said the decision of the EU member states remained to be seen, but added: “You can only imagine truly powerful European strength, European independence and European development with Ukraine.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the executive’s decision while dressed in Ukrainian colors — a yellow blazer over a blue blouse.

“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” she said. “We want them to live with us the European dream.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin railed at the West, the United States in particular, in a grievance-filled speech in St. Petersburg on Friday, but sought to play down the EU issue.

“We have nothing against it,” he said. “It is not a military bloc. It’s the right of any country to join economic union.”

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