Ukraine is fighting for Europe's freedom and values, EU leaders said Sunday, as they handed this year's award for service towards European unity to the war-torn country's President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian people.

"Ukraine incarnates everything the European idea is living for: the courage of convictions, the fight for values and freedom, the commitment to peace and unity," said EU chief Ursula von der Leyen at the Charlemagne award ceremony in the western city of Aachen.

"President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for the values and the obligation that this prize embodies. And in doing so, they are also fighting for our own freedom and our values," she said in a message echoed by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

For Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Russia's war on its neighbour has "cemented one clear realisation: Ukraine is part of our European family".


Zelensky turned up in person to pick up the prize while on his first trip to Germany since Russia's invasion.

His German visit came a day after he met Italian leaders and Pope Francis in Rome, and sources told AFP that his next destination later Sunday will be another European heavyweight France, where meetings are expected with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

The weekend diplomatic tour comes ahead of an EU summit in Reykjavik and a gathering of G7 leaders in Japan. Zelensky won long standing ovations at the Aachen ceremony, during which EU leaders also vowed to support Ukraine along its road to joining the bloc.

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Calling Germany a "true friend and reliable ally" to Ukraine as it battles to repel Russian invaders, Zelensky earlier Sunday held separate talks with Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Berlin on Saturday unveiled a new military package for Kyiv worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), its biggest yet for Ukraine and hailed by Zelensky as a "powerful support".

"Now is the time for us to determine the end of this war this year. This year, we can make the aggressor's defeat irreversible," said the Ukrainian leader.


Anticipating the president's arrival in Aachen, several hundred Ukraine supporters holding blue balloons and wearing yellow-and-blue flags around their shoulders held a rally. Olga Zelenska, 37, told AFP she came to show her support for her country.

"We are proud," she said, when asked about the Charlemagne award for her people.

Ukrainian forces have been training troops and stockpiling Western-supplied munitions and hardware that analysts say will be key to reclaiming territory captured by Russia.

Once accused of reticence in supplying military gear to Ukraine, Germany has since become the second-biggest contributor of tanks, rockets and anti-missile systems to the country, after the United States.

Early on in the conflict, Kyiv had accused Germany of being too accommodating to Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Berlin's reliance on Russian energy had proved tricky.

Kyiv had also snubbed a visit by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the weeks following the invasion, which in turn delayed Scholz's first trip to the war-torn country.

Both Steinmeier and Scholz have since visited Ukraine. On the eve of Zelensky's visit, Berlin said it would send Ukraine more firing units and launchers for the Iris-T anti-missile system, 30 additional Leopard 1 tanks, more than 100 armoured combat vehicles and over 200 surveillance drones.


Scholz on Sunday reiterated Berlin's firm backing, telling Zelensky directly: "We will support you for as long as it is necessary."

Zelensky said he would urge Scholz to support Ukraine's bid for fighter jet deliveries, though he did not specify if he was seeking aircraft directly from Germany.

On the front line, Kyiv said Ukrainian forces have captured more than ten Russian positions on the outskirts of the flashpoint town of Bakhmut.


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Comments ( 1)
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Contrary to your headline, it was not the EU that honored Zelensky and the Ukrainian people today. EU leaders just joined the ceremony with their speeches. The Charlemagne price / Karlspreis was founded by the city of Aachen and the members of the committee are all German (similar to the nobel prize committes, those are Norwegians or Swedes).

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@Michael, The Charlemagne price is one of the most important, probably the most important, European award for people who have stood out for European values. If it is given at Aachen doesn´t mean anything, like the Nobel or the Princess of Asturias. It is a European honor for Zelensky and the Ukranian people.

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@Barruntaranchos, The Charlemagne price is a honor for Europeans given by the city of Aachen respectively the price commitee. The members of that price commitee are all German. That is obviously not the same as an "European honor" given by the EU.
The method how the honored persons are chosen is comparable to the Nobel prize procedure.