Germany pledges $1.4 bn for Ukraine's army on Maidan anniversary
A woman sets a candle as she pays tribute at the memorial of Maidan activists, also known as "Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred", referring to the people killed in the anti-government demonstrations of 2013-2014, during a commemoration to mark the tenth anniversary of the Maidan uprising, in Kyiv on November 21, 2023. The Maidan protests erupted in late 2013 when Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych ditched an association agreement trade deal with the European Union and subsequently sparked a separatist conflict in the east of the country. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
(AFP) - Germany on Tuesday unveiled another large military aid package for Ukraine during an unannounced visit to Kyiv by the defence minister that coincided with the 10th anniversary of the historic Maidan protests.
European Union leader Charles Michel and Moldovan leader Maia Sandu were also in the capital, Kyiv, becoming the latest officials to throw their political clout behind Ukraine during surprise trips.
A flurry of visits from senior Western officials have sought to reassure Kyiv of more military support, as the world's attention shifts to the Middle East and questions emerge over US funding for Ukraine.
The German package -- worth 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion) and including four further IRIS T-SLM air defence systems as well as artillery ammunition -- was unveiled by Defence Minister Boris Pistorius after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Rustem Umerov, in Kyiv.
"I am here again, firstly to pledge further support but also to express our solidarity and deep bond and also our admiration for the courageous, brave and costly fight that is being waged here," Pistorius said earlier when he laid flowers at Maidan square in central Kyiv.
Michel, the president of the European Council, announced his arrival in Kyiv by posting on social media a picture of himself getting off a train.
"Good to be back in Kyiv among friends," he wrote ahead of expected meetings, including with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky earlier this week met the head of the Pentagon, who announced another $100 in US military aid, and last week hosted UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who promised continued British backing.
The visits come in the wake of a disappointing Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east of the country that Kyiv launched this summer after building up stockpiles of Western weapons.
- 'A victory of courage' -
Ukraine has nonetheless claimed recently to have recaptured several kilometres (miles) of land on the east bank of the Dnipro river, which is the de facto front line in the south of the country.
Russia's defence minister dismissed those claims on Tuesday saying his troops had thwarted Ukrainian attempts to land on the occupied bank in the Kherson region, and claiming Kyiv's army had suffered "colossal losses".
The Tuesday visits, which also included an announced trip by Moldovan leader Sandu, fell on the 10th anniversary of massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Kyiv that Zelensky linked to Russia's invasion.
The protest movement -- in which around 100 civilians died in violent clashes with security forces in the capital -- ultimately led to the ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
"The first victory in today's war took place. A victory against indifference. A victory of courage. The victory of the Revolution of Dignity," Zelensky said in a statement marking the anniversary of the months-long protest movement.
The Maidan protests erupted in late 2013 when Yanukovych ditched an association agreement trade deal with the EU.
The protests precipitated separatist fighting in the east of the country.
Zelensky praised his country's progress towards gaining EU membership since Russian forces launched a fully-fledged invasion in February 2022.
"Year after year, step by step, we do our best to ensure that our star shines in the circle of stars on the EU flag, which symbolises the unity of the peoples of Europe. The star of Ukraine," he said.
- 'It was a coup' -
The EU's executive commission recommended earlier this month opening formal membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova, and suggested that the bloc's 27 member states should grant Georgia candidate status.
The Kremlin however described the Maidan protests as an attempt to topple the government with the backing of foreign powers.
"It was a coup. It was an overthrow of the authorities that was sponsored from abroad. Things need to be called by their names," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.
Valentyna Bilan, who took part in the Maidan protests, told AFP she felt like "the Ukrainian people woke up" the day the demonstrations began.
"They realised that we are not some kind of cattle, that they cannot beat our children and can't have everything decided for us," she said in central Kyiv.
"I met the best people in the world then."
Peskov meanwhile said Russia's goal was to push ahead with its invasion of Ukraine, after last year announcing the unilateral annexation of four Ukrainian territories, over which it still does not have full military control.
The United Nations meanwhile announced on Tuesday that more than 10,000 people, including more than 560 children, had been killed and over 18,500 wounded since Russia invaded.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine noted that the real figure was likely to be "significantly" higher, given complications in verifying deaths.
© Agence France-Presse