President Zelenskyy wins backing from leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania to give Ukraine EU candidate status while urging them to send more weapons and impose tougher sanctions on Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian PM Mario Draghi visit Kiev suburb of Irpin, a scene of fierce fighting months ago.
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian PM Mario Draghi visit Kiev suburb of Irpin, a scene of fierce fighting months ago. (AFP)

The European Union's most powerful leaders have embraced Ukraine's bid to be accepted as a candidate for EU membership, in a potent symbol of support in Kiev's battle against Russia's aggression.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian premier Mario Draghi arrived in Ukraine by train on Thursday and headed to the Kiev suburb of Irpin, the scene of fierce battles early in the brutal offensive.

Later joined by Romania's President Klaus Iohannis, they met their Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been lobbying his western allies for more and faster weapons deliveries and the promise of a European future.

"All four of us support the status of immediate candidate for accession," Macron told a joint press conference with his EU colleagues.

Draghi agreed: "The most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the EU."

Scholz said Ukraine "belongs in the European family" and vowed, "We are supporting Ukraine with the deliveries of weapons. We will keep doing that for as long as it is needed."

READ MORE: Ukraine's EU candidacy must not weaken bloc — French official

European Commission to give its opinion

Zelenskyy promised Ukraine was ready to put in the work to become a fully-fledged EU member and said Ukrainians have already proved themselves worthy of candidate status.

"Ukraine has gotten the closest to EU it has ever been in the history of its independence," he said later in his daily address.

The European Commission will meet on Friday to give its official opinion on Ukraine's formal bid for EU candidacy, which must be approved by all 27 member states.

Once a candidate, it may take several years for Ukraine – already a poor country with a reputation for corruption before Russia's assault – to meet membership criteria.

READ MORE: Top EU official backs multi-trillion Marshall-style plan to rebuild Ukraine

Source: AFP