By David Young and Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has thanked Ireland for its support amid the Russian invasion as he held talks with the Taoiseach in Kyiv.
Micheál Martin restated Irish solidarity with the people of Ukraine as he met Mr Zelenskiy in the war-torn capital on Wednesday.
Earlier, the Taoiseach witnessed the devastation inflicted by invading Russian forces as he visited conflict-scarred suburbs of Kyiv that have borne the brunt of the offensive on the city.
The tour included a sombre visit to the site of a mass grave in the grounds of a church in Bucha.
After holding a bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach, Mr Zelenskiy posted a social media message expressing his gratitude.
“Thank you that in this defining time for our state Ireland is near,” he said.
“I am grateful that Ireland stands by our side in this crucial time for our country.”
Ireland has taken in more than 36,000 Ukrainian refugees since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine at the end of February.
The Irish government has given €20 million in humanitarian support and assistance to the country, as well as health equipment and medical donations worth more than €4.5 million.
Mr Martin used his visit to restate Ireland’s full backing for continuing sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime and for Ukraine’s path to full EU membership, as well as Ireland’s commitment to work with the EU on the reconstruction of Ukraine.
As well as his bilateral meeting with President Zelenskiy, the Taoiseach also held talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
“The people of Ireland stand with Ukraine and its people in the face of Russia’s immoral and unprovoked war of terror,” said Mr Martin.
The Irish leader said the bombardment and attacks on civilians were “nothing short of war crimes” as he insisted Russia must be held accountable.
“The spirit and resolve of the Ukrainian people has inspired us all, and Ireland will provide every support for Ukraine’s path to full EU membership, and continue to welcome and support civilians fleeing this war,” he added.
Mr Martin’s day-long itinerary in the war-torn city began with a trip to Borodyanka – a town on the outskirts of Kyiv that has suffered widespread damage under Russian shelling.
On the 30-minute drive from the railway station, the Taoiseach passed Hostomel airport, where his convoy stopped to observe a demolished bridge.
The delegation also drove past bombed-out warehouses, shopping centres and petrol stations.
The scale of Ukrainian efforts to defend their capital was evident, with numerous bunkers and fortifications visible on the journey.
In Borodyanka, Mr Martin met the town’s mayor and viewed apartment blocks gutted by fire during the Russian bombardment.
From there, Mr Martin visited the site of a mass grave in Bucha.
The grave was discovered in the grounds of the church of St Andrew.
A local cleric showed Mr Martin the site and an associated exhibition of graphic photographs of exhumed bodies and pictures of civilians left dead on the streets of the suburb when Russian forces retreated.
The Irish delegation then travelled to nearby Irpin where the Taoiseach was shown badly-damaged apartment blocks that had been hit by Russian shells.
Afterwards, Mr Martin said: “It is difficult to comprehend the devastation and inhumanity of Russia’s attacks on Irpin, Borodyanka and Bucha.
“(It is) clear how important it is for women and children to get to Ireland to escape trauma and brutality. We stand with Ukraine.”
Prior to the talks with the Ukrainian president, Micheál Martin visited a museum in Kyiv that is exhibiting items from the war, including damaged Russian military vehicles and missile fragments.
He placed a teddy bear at a nearby memorial to the children killed in the conflict so far.
Mr Martin then visited a memorial commemorating the lives lost in the Holodomor famine in Ukraine in the early 1930s.
The Taoiseach placed a wreath at the site and later lit a candle in an underground part of the memorial.
Mr Martin’s trip came two weeks after President Zelenskiy invited him to visit Ukraine.
It is the first visit by a Taoiseach to the eastern European country.
On Monday, President Putin declared victory in seizing the eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk, with his troops escalating their offensive in neighbouring Donetsk.
Mr Martin has warned previously that the Russian president appeared to be leveraging its natural gas supplies to exert maximum pressure on Europe ahead of the winter period.
The Taoiseach has also been a vocal advocate for Ukraine’s fast-tracked membership of the EU.
In April, fellow cabinet minister Simon Coveney became the first foreign minister of the UN Security Council to visit Kyiv, and met Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and defence minister Oleksii Reznikov.