Baerbock for the first time since the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine
Created: 2023-01-10Updated: 2023-01-10 4:33 PM
"In this winter of war, don't lose sight of Ukraine's place in our European family": Annalena Baerbock.
© Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/Archive
In a secret operation, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock travels to the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, which was liberated in September.
She also wants to send a signal in the direction of Moscow.
Kharkiv - Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has pledged continued support for Ukraine against Russia's war of aggression and on its way to the European Union (EU).
The people of Ukraine should "know that they can rely on our solidarity and our support," assured the Greens politician when visiting the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv near the Russian border, which was badly hit by the war.
During the visit to Kharkiv, which was initially kept secret for security reasons, Baerbock was accompanied by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany, Oleksii Makeiev.
She is the first German cabinet member to travel to eastern Ukraine and the long-contested Kharkov since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression.
The city of over a million inhabitants, which is only a good 20 kilometers from the border with Russia, has recently been subjected to Russian attacks.
The support includes winter aid with generators, fuel and blankets, but "also other arms supplies that Ukraine needs to free its fellow citizens who are still suffering from the terror of the Russian occupation," explained Baerbock.
She visited the country just a few days after the German government's decision to supply German Marder-type armored personnel carriers, which Ukraine had repeatedly requested.
Baerbock emphasizes Ukraine's EU prospects
It is important to her that "even in this winter of war we do not lose sight of Ukraine's place in our European family," added the minister.
Ukrainians see their future in the EU.
The federal government wants to make concrete offers so that the country can make progress in strengthening the rule of law, independent institutions, fighting corruption and aligning with EU standards.
Because the airspace over Ukraine is still closed, Baerbock first took a special train from Poland to the capital Kyiv at night.
From there, together with Kuleba and her delegation, she took the regular Intercity Express 722 to Kharkiv shortly after 7 a.m. local time in the morning.
The route is served by modern Korean trains purchased by Ukraine for the 2012 European Football Championship.
After being welcomed by Governor Oleh Synyehubov and Mayor Ihor Terekhov at the train station in Kharkiv, Baerbock first visited a destroyed substation.
An employee said it had already been attacked 15 times.
The energy supply infrastructure is the main target of the Russian missile attacks that have been going on for months.
Power banks for sick and injured children
At Children's Hospital No. 16, the minister - herself a mother of two little girls - met patients and their parents.
Among other things, she brought crayons and power banks as gifts - because of the Russian attacks, the electricity often goes out.
A doctor reported on the high quality of the treatment, but also on problems.
"The war also attacks the souls of children," she said.
The bravest people in the world lived here, replied Baerbock.
She told her daughters that too.
She wants to show the world how strong the people of Kharkiv and especially the children are in defying this war.
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The minister also took a tour of the north-eastern district of Saltivka, which had been badly damaged by Russian attacks.
In view of the Russian attacks on the infrastructure, she inspected a destroyed boiler system, visited the heating room of a school and spoke to employees of a combined heat and power plant.
Temperatures in Kharkiv are currently down to double digits at night.
In the school's heating room, the minister exchanged views with teachers and students from a school that had already been destroyed on February 27.
The school is part of an initiative launched by the Federal Foreign Office in 2008 of 1800 partner schools with a special connection to Germany - so-called Pasch schools.
Kharkiv - one of the most heavily shelled Ukrainian cities
Kharkiv is one of the most war-affected cities in Ukraine.
According to the city administration, more than 8,000 houses were damaged by artillery and rocket attacks.
Almost every house in the Saltivka district was damaged.
But after the successful counter-offensive by the Ukrainians, the residents are returning here and trying to build up a normal life despite daily air raid alarms.
According to Governor Oleh Synyehubov, around 1.1 million people were living in the city again at the end of December - that's almost 80 percent of the pre-war figure.
Today is the 321st day since the beginning of the war.
Kharkiv Oblast was among the first regions attacked by Russia.
After the official end of the ceasefire declared by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin on Saturday evening, explosions were reported from the Kharkiv region, and according to Ukrainian sources one person died.
During Baerbock's visit there was also an air raid in Kharkiv.
The Russians were never able to establish themselves in the Kharkiv region
The Ukrainians showed the minister the Kharkiv regional administration on the central Freedom Square, which was destroyed by Russian rockets on March 1.
29 people were killed in the second largest Ukrainian city.
Immediately after invading Ukraine, the Russians briefly advanced to the outskirts of the city.
However, they could not establish themselves there and were quickly pushed out again.
They were largely forced to withdraw from the Kharkiv region in September - after a Ukrainian offensive that pushed the Russians behind the Oskil River.