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Ukraine seeks help to shield and rebuild shattered cities

By Andreas Rinke and Olena Harmash

BERLIN (Reuters) -Ukraine and its allies drummed up support to protect Ukrainian cities from Russian missiles at a conference in Berlin on Tuesday and urged international businesses to put their faith, and billions of dollars, into post-war reconstruction.

Kyiv hopes the recovery conference will cement its credentials as a future member of the European Union worthy of huge injections of reconstruction financing – even as Russian forces continue to make slow advances in Ukraine’s east.

Switzerland hosts a summit this weekend to seek a path to peace in Ukraine, but it has been shunned by China and dismissed as a waste of time by Russia, which was not invited.

Speaking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had already destroyed enough energy infrastructure to power the cities of Berlin and Munich combined.

He was hoping to secure pledges of billions of euros for defence and agreements on building a new and more modern energy system.

“Ukraine is suffering from the most destructive form of the Russian view of energy as a weapon,” Zelenskiy said.

Citing World Bank estimates that Ukraine could need $500 billion over a decade, Scholz said companies had to be offered a business case for investing, and talked up Ukraine’s potential in sectors including renewables, IT and pharmaceuticals.

He also said Germany was sending more air defence systems to bolster Ukraine’s defences against a barrage of Russian attacks on cities and critical infrastructure, more than two years after Russia launched a full-scale invasion.

“The best kind of reconstruction is the one that doesn’t have to happen at all,” he said.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced Germany would deliver another 100 Patriot air defence missiles in an initiative with Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.

A Russian campaign of aerial bombardment that began in March has inflicted such heavy damage to generating capacity that blackouts are having to be scheduled across Ukraine.

A flurry of diplomacy will have both Zelenskiy and Scholz attending a summit of the Group of Seven major Western powers in Italy this week.

Asked what he expected of the conference in Switzerland, which aims to build support for Kyiv’s peace proposals, Zelenskiy said the fact it was even happening was a result, as it was becoming harder to keep countries onside as war drags on.

“It is important not to hand over (the initiative) … to Russia,” he said. “Because the Russian initiative had been demonstrated on the day of the full-scale invasion. Their vision is the occupation of our country.”

GERMAN AFD BOYCOTTS ZELENSKIY SPEECH

In a Reuters interview at the conference, the mayor of Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, said Western weapons and the permission to use against targets just inside Russia had helped to restore calm.

Zelenskiy also addressed the German parliament, where his speech was boycotted by two parties including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), whose support surged in European elections last weekend.

Speaking alongside Scholz and Zelenskiy, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced agreements worth 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) with banks to help attract private investment for Ukraine.

She also said the EU would itself deliver 1.9 billion euros to Ukraine by the end of the month, and that Kyiv would benefit from interest income from frozen Russian assets.

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin must fail, and Ukraine must prevail,” she said.

“And we must help Ukraine to rise from the ashes and to be the master of its own future. This means, first and foremost, that we must provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself.”

The Berlin conference was tainted this week by the resignation of a top Ukrainian reconstruction official who said “systemic obstacles” were making his job untenable.

U.S. special envoy Penny Pritzker said commitments to rebuilding Ukraine were “predicated upon having good stewardship by those who are managing the reconstruction efforts across the Ukrainian government”.

“It’s urgent to tackle the corruption, the customs evasion, the grey markets,” she said.

($1 = 0.9304 euros)

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Rachel More, Andrey Sychev, Olena Harmash, Anastasiia Malenko, John O’Donnell, Alvise Armellini, Max Hunder, Dan Peleschuk; additional reporting by Tom Sims; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Kevin Liffey)

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