KYIV (AP) — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday reopened her country’s embassy in Kyiv that was closed more than two months ago following the Russian invasion.
Baerbock, the first German Cabinet member to visit Ukraine since the start of the war, also pledged that Berlin would provide further support to Kyiv, including when it comes to investigating and prosecuting war crimes.
Speaking after visiting the towns of Bucha and Irpin, where Russian soldiers are alleged to have killed numerous civilians, Baerbock said there can “never again be impunity for the war crimes committed by Russia, the deportations, or for the murderers and rapists.”
“That is why we will provide political, financial, and support through German staff, particularly at the International Criminal Court,” she said, adding that Germany will also pay for two additional Ukrainian prosecutors who will investigate sexual violence committed during the conflict.
Baerbock expressed deep sorrow over the civilians killed during the war, saying that “the worst crimes imaginable” had been perpetrated in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, that was occupied by Russian forces for several weeks.
Survivors have told how Russian soldiers targeted civilians seemingly at random there, leaving their bodies lying on the street after their withdrawal on March 31.
Baerbock said she heard accounts from those who had lost loved ones during the occupation, including people killed in a supermarket while they were going shopping, and a woman and her two children shot dead while they were trying to flee.
“We owe it to the victims that we don’t just commemorate them here, but that we hold the perpetrators to account,” Baerbock said during a brief visit to the town with Ukraine’s prosecutor general. “And we as the international community will do this. That’s the promise we can and must make here in Bucha.”
“Nobody can take away the pain (of the survivors),” she added. “The pain of fathers and mothers, of aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors and colleagues. But we can ensure there is justice.”
The head of the U.N. human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said Tuesday that she had received reports of more than 300 men, women and children being unlawfully killed in Bucha during the occupation.
Across Ukraine, the global body has corroborated 3,381 civilian deaths since the beginning of the war.
“The actual figures are higher and we are working to corroborate every single incident,” Bogner said.
Baerbock’s trip comes days after Berlin and Kyiv set aside a diplomatic spat concerning Ukraine’s unwillingness to invite the German president because of his past close dealings with Russia.
Relations between the two countries remain tense, however.
Germany has been criticized for dragging its feet over arms supplies to Ukraine and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba slammed Berlin police for removing his country’s flag from protesters at a World War II memorial event in the German capital Sunday. Police said the ban on Ukrainian and Russian flags was intended to prevent clashes between supporters of both countries and only applied to limited parts of the city.
Baerbock, who met with Kuleba and later with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, stressed that Germany now supports the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, including Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and powerful howitzers. Some of the German-made howitzers will be provided by the Netherlands, whose foreign minister was also in Kyiv on Tuesday, but Ukrainian soldiers will be trained to use them in Germany.
Germany, which has long relied on energy supplies, plans to reduce this dependence “to zero, forever,” said Baerbock. The German government aims to wean itself off Russian oil and coal this year and end imports of natural gas from Russia by 2024 at the latest.
Baerbock said Germany remains committed to the sanctions that have already been agreed against Russia, adding that they could only be lifted “when Ukraine is free and is able to say of its own accord: we can live in peace again.”
She also appeared to push back against French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion Monday that it might take decades for Ukraine to become a member of the European Union, and that the country could join a new, looser political grouping in the meantime.
“There can be no shortcuts to full membership of the EU,” Baerbock said. “But I emphasize full membership here.”
“Now is not the moment for legal pedantry,” she added. “Now is the moment to take a clear position.”
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