Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, this weekend as he seeks backing for the country’s bid to join the European Union. Photo courtesy Ursula von der Leyen/Twitter
June 12 (UPI) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, this weekend as he seeks backing for the country's bid to join the European Union.
Von der Leyen has been a vocal critic of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and previously met with Zelensky in Kyiv in April after visiting the town of Bucha amid allegations that Russia had committed war crimes, presenting him then with the steps Ukraine would need to take to join the EU.
She traveled to Ukraine again this weekend to meet with Zelensky and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as the European Commission prepares its recommendation for EU member states, she said in a post to Twitter on Saturday.
"[The meeting] will enable us to finalize our assessment. The path is known," von der Leyen said. "I appreciate the efforts and determination of Ukraine in this process."
Von der Leyen said that Ukraine has a "solid parliamentary democracy" and "was already on a good track" before Russia invaded.
"This war is an enormous stress test. And the whole country is stepping up," von der Leyen said. "The same spirit is needed to reform and modernize the country. And Europe is here to support you."
Zelensky thanked von der Leyen afterward for "meaningful negotiations" and said that he was working to strengthen backing for Ukraine's EU bid.
The Ukrainian president has been having conversations with the leaders of several nations within the bloc including Poland and Montenegro.
Zelensky spoke with Dritan Abazovic, the prime minister of Montenegro, on Friday and expressed thanks for the country's support of Ukrainian membership in the bloc and "in the issue of sanctions."
"We've set plans for future bilateral and regional cooperation," Zelensky said.
The news came as Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO, said Sunday that Turkey's concerns over Sweden and Finland joining the military alliance are "legitimate."
Sweden and Finland announced last month that the countries had changed their stances on neutrality since Russia's invasion of Ukraine and would apply for NATO membership.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced opposition to their NATO bid on accusations that the countries have harbored members of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, a militant political group that seeks independence from Turkey.
Joining the alliance requires unanimous approval from its 30 member nations.
Russian troops have destroyed two of the three bridges into Sievierodonetsk in a final push to take control of the key city in eastern Ukraine, officials said Sunday.
The news came as it was revealed that a former British soldier has been killed fighting for Ukraine in the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk.
Jordan Gatley was shot dead Friday while volunteering to help Ukraine defend Sievierodonetsk, his family announced in a post Saturday to Facebook.
Sievierodonetsk is the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk oblast of Ukraine, which experts have said Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to annex into Russia in coming months.
Data from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees show that 4,904,207 individual refugees have left Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24 and more than 4,000 civilians have been killed.