European Council President Charles Michel spent Europe Day closely observing war damage in Odessa and was forced to take cover during a missile attack, a senior official said. responsible for the EU.
Michel met in Odessa, Ukraine’s strategic Black Sea port city, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal and recorded a speech in commemoration of Europe Day in front of the city’s historic opera house, the senior official said. . Michel, whose main responsibility is to coordinate the summits of the 27 heads of state and government of the EU, also received a briefing from a senior officer of the Ukrainian navy on the missile attacks launched by Russia.
“The President was briefed by the head of the Ukrainian Navy in particular on the damage caused by Russian missiles fired from the sea and was able to witness firsthand the wanton destruction of a residential building and the impact on innocent civilians,” the senior official said. mentioned. “During the meeting with the Prime Minister, the participants had to interrupt the meeting to take shelter as missiles hit the Odessa region again.”
Officials close to Michel said he intended to demonstrate EU support for Ukraine on May 9, given the dual Victory Day commemorations in Moscow, where Russian President Vladimir Putin used his speech to try to justify his war against Ukraine, and Europe Day. , with the EU marking the 72nd anniversary of the Schuman Declaration.
Yet Michel’s wartime visit to a city that is a known target of military strikes has raised questions about the caution and necessity of the trip – and whether the public message of his presence justified the risk to the Prime Minister. himself and those responsible for protecting him. .
Odessa has come under sporadic fire in recent days, including a strike Sunday by at least four cruise missiles, Ukrainian media reported.
Unlike national governments, especially the G7 powers, the EU has limited security personnel and capabilities, and generally relies heavily on host country personnel for overall protection during official visits. Decisions on such trips are generally left to the discretion of EU institutional leaders.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Michel each traveled separately to Kyiv. Metsola was the first to leave and surrendered on April 1 before it became clear that Russian forces attempting to capture the capital had begun to withdraw from positions in nearby towns.
“The security situation has been carefully assessed at all times,” a council official said.
Officials declined to provide further details, including where the meetings were held, and whether a missile had actually struck while Michel was on the ground, or whether the air raid sirens turned out to be a false alarm. Ukrainian Telegram channels reported that air raid sirens sounded at least twice on Monday morning in Odessa and the Odessa region, and that four Russian “Oniks” missiles fired from Crimea hit the Odessa region towards 9 a.m.
Officials said Michel’s one-on-one chat with Shmyhal continued while they took refuge.
In Odessa, Michel saw a residential building destroyed by rocket fire and also visited the port area where Ukrainian grain has piled up, with cargo ships unable to navigate due to the war, which has worsened the food crisis. world.
“The visit included a visit to the port of Odessa where the president could see firsthand the impact of Russia’s war on global supply chains,” the senior EU official said. “The many tonnes of grain stuck in the port due to Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea not only harms Ukraine’s economy, but also hinders global access to vital food and endangers food security around the world.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also participated in some of the talks with Michel via video link from Kyiv.