Zelensky tells EU to 'prove you are with' Ukraine

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BRUSSELS (AFP/REUTERS) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the European Union on Tuesday (March 1) to prove that it sided with Ukraine in its war with Russia, one day after signing an official request to join the bloc.

“We are fighting to be equal members of Europe,” Zelensky told an emergency session of the European Parliament via video-link.  

“Do prove that you are with us. Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans and then life will win over death and light will win over darkness,” he said in Ukrainian in a speech translated to English by an interpreter talking through tears, as emotion gripped the parliament. 

EU lawmakers, many wearing #standwithUkraine T-shirts bearing the Ukrainian flag, others with blue-and-yellow scarves or ribbons, gave Zelensky a standing ovation.

“The EU will be much stronger with us. Without you, Ukraine will be lonesome,” Zelensky said, with Kyiv likely well aware that Ukraine’s membership bid will be long and difficult.  

The address by Zelensky - who has become a global icon of defiance in the face of Moscow's aggression - comes as Kyiv pushes for fast-track membership of the bloc.

The chairman of EU leaders, Charles Michel, said EU institutions and governments will have to seriously look at Ukraine’s request for membership in the bloc and respond to Kyiv’s “legitimate” request.  

Michel noted however that while Ukraine’s application was “symbolic”, there was no unity on the issue of enlargement in the 27-nation bloc.  

“It is going to be difficult, we know there are different views in Europe,” Michel told the European parliament.  “The council (of EU governments) will have to seriously look at the symbolic, political and legitimate request that has been made and make the appropriate choice in a determined and clear-headed manner,” Michel said.

EU lawmakers look set to back a non-binding resolution calling for Ukraine to be granted candidate status.

But the decision to put Kyiv on the path to join remains one for the 27 member states. Officials caution it would take years of reforms for Ukraine to be able to become part of the EU.

The European Union, however, has imposed broad and painful sanctions on Russia, targeting President Vladimir Putin, top officials, oligarchs supporting him and the central bank.

Further sanctions cutting some Russian banks from the global Swift messaging network and banning broadcasts of Russian media outlets deemed propaganda organs spreading disinformation are poised to come into effect.

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The address by Zelensky comes as evidence from the ground shows that Moscow's forces are bombing civilian areas in major cities such as Kharkiv as they seek to push deeper into Ukraine.

Satellite images show a huge build-up of Russian armoured vehicles and artillery 29km north of Kyiv as the capital, with a population of three million, braces for an all-out assault.

Ahead of his address to the European Parliament, Zelensky described Russian shelling of his country’s second city as a war crime and said defending the capital from Moscow’s army was a top priority.

“The strike against Kharkiv is a war crime. This is state terrorism on the part of Russia,” Zelensky said in a video statement. On the sixth day of Russia’s invasion, “the defence of the capital today is the key priority for the state”, he added.

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