Visiting Ukraine, Moldovan leader says her country also vulnerable

Moldova's President Maia Sandu leaves a church at the site of a mass grave in the town of Bucha, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, outside of Kyiv, Ukraine June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KYIV (Reuters) - Moldova's president said during a visit to Ukraine on Monday that her country was "fragile and vulnerable" and needed help to remain "part of the free world".

Four days after European Union leaders decided to accept Ukraine and Moldova as membership candidates, President Maia Sandu visited three towns where Ukraine suspects Russian forces of committing atrocities following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion.

"This shouldn't happen. And, you know, it is heartbreaking to see what we see here and to hear the stories," she said in Bucha outside Kyiv, calling for anyone found guilty of atrocities to be punished.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, has denied targeting civilians and has dismissed allegations that its forces have committed atrocities.

Sandu said Moldova, a former Soviet republic of 2.6 million people that borders Ukraine, wanted to determine its own future.

"Moldova is a fragile and vulnerable country," she said. "Ukraine and Moldova need help. We want this war (in Ukraine) to stop, this Russian aggression against Ukraine to be stopped as soon as possible. We want to stay part of the free world."

Sandu also visited the towns of Borodyanka and Irpin, and later began talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

EU leaders accepted Ukraine and Moldova as membership candidates at a summit in Brussels last week, putting both countries on what is likely to be a long road to membership.

Russia said the EU's decision would have negative consequences and amounted to the 27-nation bloc "enslaving" neighbouring countries.

(Reporting by Max Hunder in Kyiv, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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