Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska attend a memorial ceremony for Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, his deputy and officials who died in the helicopter crash near Kyiv, in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 21, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

KYIV: A tearful Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attended a memorial service on Saturday to commemorate seven senior Interior Ministry officials killed in a helicopter crash this week, a fresh blow to a nation already grieving its many war dead.

Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, his deputy and five other high-ranking ministry officials were killed when their French-made Super Puma helicopter plummeted amid fog into a nursery on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv on Wednesday.

Another seven people were killed, including one child, in the crash. Officials are still investigating the cause of the crash.

“The indescribable sadness is covering the soul,” Zelensky wrote in a Telegram post on Saturday. “Ukraine is losing its best sons and daughters every day.” Zelensky and his wife, Olena Zelenska, paid their respects to the victims’ relatives inside the hulking Ukrainian House cultural centre in central Kyiv. A crowd of mourners snaked outside toward Independence Square.

Meanwhile, Germany faced a strong backlash from allies on Saturday over its refusal to supply Ukraine with its vaunted Leopard tanks to boost its fighting capacity in the nearly year-long war with Russia.

On Friday, some 50 nations agreed to provide Kyiv with billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware, including ample armoured vehicles and munitions needed to push back Russian forces.

But German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters on the sidelines of the event at the US Ramstein Air Base that despite heightened expectations, “We still cannot say when a decision will be taken, and what the decision will be, when it comes to the Leopard tank.”

On Saturday, several allies echoed Zelensky in saying that the tanks were essential to Ukraine’s fight with its much larger neighbour.

In a joint statement - and a rare public criticism of Europe’s top power - the foreign ministers of the three Baltic states said they “call on Germany to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.”

“This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly. Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard,” said the statement, tweeted by Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.