European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the pressing need to help Ukrainian refugees at her press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Madrid, when pointing out that more than 1.2 million Ukrainians have fled their country since the start of the war.
Von der Leyen said she and Sanchez had discussed “the extremely difficult situation created by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war”, indicating that she expected the number of Ukrainian refugees to increase multiple times in the coming weeks and months.
“These are innocent women, men and children, who are fleeing Putin’s ruthless and brutal war”, she stressed, and “they need our immediate assistance.”
Citing EU member state solidarity with Ukraine, von der Leyen commended the outstanding role being played by “frontline countries” like Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and also Moldova.
The bloc has allocated 500 million euro in the first tranche of aid to Ukrainians, she declared, having already “made sure this week that Ukrainian refugees of this terrible war get residency rights in the EU immediately for at least a year.”
She described the display of unity, determination and solidarity as “Europe at its best”, noting that the EU was offering Ukrainians access to education, the labour market and medical care.
The sanctions imposed on Russia, she said, came in three packages of measures to limit Moscow’s ability to finance its aggression against Ukraine. She acknowledged that they would also have negative effects on the EU, which made it all the more important to overcome dependency on Russian oil, gas and coal imports.
The bloc, she said, needs “to help the consumers, the households and the businesses that have, indeed, problems with the high energy bills”. This was a problem she had discussed with PM Sánchez and one that would “certainly be a topic at the informal summit in Versailles.”
The war “unleashed by Putin is not only atrocious, it is also a fight of our democracies against autocracies… a defining moment in our history, and Spain knows very well that democracy is priceless and that we have to stand up for it.”