Zelenskiy lobbies for support and investment to reconstruct Ukraine

<span>Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed for support from the business leaders, NGOs and politicians at the Ukraine Recovery conference in Berlin.</span><span>Photograph: Nadja Wohlleben/Reuters</span>
Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed for support from the business leaders, NGOs and politicians at the Ukraine Recovery conference in Berlin.Photograph: Nadja Wohlleben/Reuters

The Ukrainian president and his allies have used a major conference in Berlin to lobby international business for support in the country’s reconstruction and recovery efforts even as it continues to be bombarded by Russia.

Speaking at the Ukraine recovery conference, hosted by the German government, at which the topic of Ukraine’s survival was centre stage, Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned that Europe’s peace was also at stake if his country was not able to protect and rebuild itself as it stood up to Russia.

Related: Ukraine recovery conference urged to focus on preventing energy blackouts

With Russia’s military having destroyed enough energy infrastructure to “power the cities of Berlin and Munich”, Zelenskiy appealed to the 2,000 participants, including business leaders, politicians and NGOs, to trust in Ukraine and its future by investing in it.

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

The World Bank estimates that the damage and destruction caused by Russia in Ukraine amounts to at least $486bn (£380bn).

Zelenskiy said he expected the conference to produce a range of solid agreements valued at billions of euros.

“We will leave this conference with agreements for billions of euros for our defence, regarding the production of military equipment and weapons in Ukraine, and for our energy, for repairing and building a new and more modern energy system,” he said.

Funding would also go towards education, rebuilding homes and supplying medical equipment, he added.

Later on Tuesday, Zelenskiy addressed the Bundestag in person for the first time, drawing on historical parallels between the conflict and the division of Germany.

“A divided Europe was never peaceful. And a divided Germany was never happy. You don’t need me to tell you this, you know it from your own experience. That’s why you can understand why we Ukrainians are fighting against attempts to divide us … why we are doing everything, everything, absolutely everything so that we do not allow a wall to be erected in our country.”

But the event was boycotted by the far-right populist Alternative für Deutschland party, an opponent of supporting Ukraine’s war effort, whose leadership said they refused to listen to a speech “given by someone dressed in military fatigues”, and the far-left BSW bloc of Sahra Wagenknecht. She said the government should make more effort to negotiate with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Mayors from Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv, Irpin, Lviv and Kyiv also travelled to Berlin, alongside several members of the Ukrainian cabinet, to appeal for support.

Ihor Terekhov, the mayor of Ukraine’s second biggest city, Kharkiv, which has recently been the focus of a brutal onslaught by Russian forces seeking to lengthen the frontline in the war, said contrary to the views of those who thought recovery could only happen once the conflict was over, it was vital for it to take place now, not least to give citizens hope.

“We cannot wait. People need reconstruction as quickly as possible,” he told the conference, explaining how 150,000 people had lost their homes in the city.

“If you just take the issue of housing … a very strong emotional component … people see that reconstruction is under way, that houses are being built, that people are going to work. That is a motivation for people. It is emotional support,” he said.

Seeing reconstruction take place was what gave those who had left Ukraine the faith to return, and might prevent those who were thinking of leaving from doing so, Terekhov said.

The mayor of Kharkiv joined Zelenskiy in appealing to the international community to boost Ukraine’s air defence systems to enable it to better fend off Russian missiles.

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, also called for an improvement in Ukraine’s air defence capabilities, saying in an opening speech: “The best reconstruction is that which doesn’t have to take place.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, also stressed the importance of giving Ukrainians a long-term perspective, announcing that having fulfilled the conditions to join the EU, Ukraine would be able to begin accession talks with Brussels to become a full member “by the end of this month”.

The Berlin conference, with representatives from 60 countries but excluding Russia and China, is seen as a run-up to a widely anticipated Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland to be held this weekend, to which 100 countries are invited. Russia has not been invited but said it would not have attended anyway.