EU Officials Hold Kyiv Talks in Show of Support for Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Top European Union officials were due to meet Friday in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a show of support for the country as it battles to counter Russia's invasion and strives to join the EU as well as NATO.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, as well as 15 European commissioners, traveled to the Ukrainian capital for what they described as a summit meeting.

The last such summit was held in Kyiv in October 2021 -- a few months before the war started. The highly symbolic visit is also the first EU political mission of its kind to a country at war.

"There will be no let-up in our resolve," Michel said in a tweet on his apparent arrival in Kyiv. "We will also support (Ukraine) every step of the way on your journey to the EU."

The high-level visit came as Ukrainian authorities reported that at least six civilians were killed and 20 others were injured over the previous 24 hours.

Among the dead were two brothers, ages 49 and 42, killed when Russian shelling destroyed an apartment block in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Ukraine's presidential office said. Their 70-year-old father was hospitalized with unspecified injuries.

Also, 18 apartment buildings, two hospitals and a school were damaged in a Russian attack in the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Thursday, injuring six, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian TV. Three people died when a Russian missile hit an apartment building in that city on Wednesday.

EU assistance for Ukraine has reached almost 50 billion euros ($55 billion) since the fighting started, according to EU officials.

The EU is providing Ukraine with financial and humanitarian aid, among other things. It also plans to adopt a 10th package of sanctions again Russia in the coming weeks.

The EU has also announced it's ramping up its military training mission for Ukraine, from an initial target of pushing 15,000 troops through the schooling to up to 30,000 troops. One focus is to train the crews of tanks that Western countries have offered Ukraine.

Ukraine wants to join the 27-nation bloc, and formally submitted its application last June, though that could take years and require the adoption of far-reaching reforms. In the meantime, von der Leyen said Thursday that the European Commission is willing to let Kyiv join what she called some "key European programs" that will bring benefits similar to membership.

Those programs were due to be discussed in Friday's meeting, which will also address one of the main obstacles to Ukraine's EU membership: endemic corruption.

Von der Leyen, on her fourth visit to Kyiv since Russia's invasion, said Thursday she was "comforted" by Ukraine's anti-corruption drive.

The previous day, Zelenskyy had taken aim at corrupt officials for the second time in the space of a week. Several high-ranking officials were dismissed.

Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft.

The latest corruption allegations came as Western allies channel billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight Moscow's forces.

Ukraine's government is keen to get more Western military aid, on top of the tanks pledged last week, as the warring sides are expected to launch new offensives once winter ends. Kyiv is now asking for fighter jets.

The U.S is expected to announce Friday it will send longer-range bombs to Ukraine as part of a new $2.17 billion aid package.

Ukraine's forces are bracing for an expected new onslaught by the Kremlin's forces in coming weeks.

Officials in the eastern Luhansk region said Russian forces have disabled mobile internet connections, stepped up shelling and deployed more troops in preparation for a full-scale offensive there.