BERLIN: Ukraine needs massive financial help to rebuild after the devastation wrought by Russia's war, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday, saying the reconstruction would be a "task for generations".
Citing the US initiative to help western Europe rebuild after World War II, Scholz said he had invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to participate in the G7 summit starting this Sunday, to "agree on what such a 'Marshall Plan for Ukraine' would look like".
During his visit to the war-scarred Ukrainian town of Irpin last week, Scholz said he had seen a level of devastation that "reminded me of images of Germany after the Second World War".
"And like war-destroyed Europe then, Ukraine needs a Marshall Plan for its reconstruction," he said, ahead of back-to-back summits gathering EU, G7 and Nato leaders in the coming days.
While the European Union has already mobilised billions for Ukraine, the country will require many more billions in the next year, said Scholz.
The financial needs can only be covered with the participation of international organisations and other large donor countries, he said.
Scholz underlined that backers of Ukraine must be prepared to maintain their support for a long time.
For now, Ukraine and Russia are "still far from negotiations... because (Russian President Vladimir) Putin still believes in the possibility of a dictated peace", he said. To help Kyiv push out Russian attackers, "it is... important that we stay firmly on course -- with our sanctions, with internationally coordinated arms deliveries, with our financial support for Ukraine".
Meanwhile, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine claimed on Wednesday they were close to surrounding Ukrainian forces defending the twin cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, the site of fierce weeks-long fighting.
An officer in the separatist army of Lugansk -- a pro-Russian breakaway region in eastern Ukraine -- said their forces surrounded Ukrainian troops in the villages of Hirsk and Zolote, a day after capturing the neighbouring village of Toshkivka.
The three settlements are located a few kilometres outside Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which Moscow's forces have been trying to seize for weeks.
"Very soon (Ukrainian) groups in Lysychansk and Severodonetsk will also be surrounded," Andrei Marochko told Russian state TV.
In Zolote and Hirsk "there is a full encirclement of Ukrainian troops", he added, also claiming that "a group of foreign mercenaries had been eliminated". "Victories and successes are colossal. Over the past several days enormous work has been accomplished," Marochko said.
Intense fighting for the strategic city of Severodonetsk has raged as Russia advances in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Capturing Severodonetsk -- the largest city in Lugansk still under Ukrainian control -- would allow Moscow's forces to advance on Sloviansk and Kramatorsk further west. - AFP