Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas makes first visit to Ukraine

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Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) made her first official visit to Ukraine since 2021 on Monday, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Despite being one of the most vocal backers of Ukraine over the last year, Kallas has not made an official, publically announced visit to the country until now since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

This is also her first visit abroad as prime minister of the new coalition, which was sworn in last week.

"I am here with a message of firm belief – belief in your victory, belief in Ukraine that is a prosperous liberal democracy and a free market economy belonging to the Euro-Atlantic community," she said at a press conference.

Kallas is visiting the Zhytomyr region, which Estonia has pledged to help rebuild. Construction has already started on a kindergarten that will open in July and the prime minister announced a second will now be built.

Kaja Kallas with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Zhytomyr on April 24, 2023. Source: ERR

"Symbolic to be in Zhytomyr – the region where Estonia is focusing its reconstruction efforts. We were the first to become patrons of a region. It's about practical action to build the future and support Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic path. We hope our model also inspires others," she said.

Kallas told ERR before her meeting with Zelenskyy that prosecution for Russia's crimes of aggression, joining the EU, this summer's NATO summit in Vilnius and Ukraine's desire to join the alliance will be discussed.

"Another thing we want from the Ukrainians is that they very actively share their experiences from the battlefield with our defense forces. This is necessary in order for us to be able to make our own preparations," Kallas added.

The prime minister also visited Bucha, where hundreds of Ukrainians were found dead after the Russian forces left the area in spring 2022.

"This place breaks my heart. The horrors of Bucha revealed to the whole world the nature of the Russian occupation, which Estonians and other countries in our region remember well from their own history. These atrocities are far from being confined to Bucha. The Russian leadership must be held accountable for the crime of aggression, genocide and crimes against humanity. Murder, rape and deportations must be seen as instruments of the Russian regime's criminal policy against the Ukrainian people," Kallas said. 

Kallas visited a mass grave in the city with the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Ihor Klymenko and received an overview of the investigation into Russian crimes. She also laid a memorial wreath.

Klymenko briefed the prime minister on the progress of the investigation and discussed the prosecution of war criminals.

According to Kallas, this work has already come a long way.

"We are on a point of no return. A year ago, it was thought unimaginable that Putin would be issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court. Just six months ago, most were not prepared to publicly support the idea of a special tribunal for crimes of aggression. Now we are discussing it at the level of heads of government and working on the legal modalities," she said.

Kallas and Zelenskyy also signed a joint statement.

The prime minister's last visit to Ukraine was in 2021.

Kaja Kallas will visit Poland on Tuesday.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Helen Wright

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