Italy pledges arms for Ukraine, help for refugees

The Ukrainian national flag is seen in front of a school which, according to local residents, was on fire after shelling in Kharkiv
The Ukrainian national flag is seen in front of a school which, according to local residents, was on fire after shelling, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Vitaliy Gnidyi/File Photo

ROME, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Italy said on Monday it would provide Ukraine with weapons and offered help to its refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

A decree adopted by Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet pledged "military vehicles, material and equipment for the Ukrainian government". The decision must be approved by parliament before it can come into force.

The decree also set up a state of emergency until the end of this year to help with Ukrainian refugees and contained measures aimed at reducing Italy's reliance on gas to fire its power stations, should this prove necessary.

Rome's steps came as Russian and Ukrainian officials met on the Belarusian border to discuss a ceasefire while Russian forces met with determined resistance from Ukrainian troops and civilians on a fifth day of conflict.

Draghi's government allocated 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to strengthen facilities for refugees, raising the capacity of its hospitality centres by up to 16,000 places.

The cabinet also set up a 500,000 euro fund aimed at enabling Ukrainian students, researchers and teachers to continue their work in Italian universities and arts institutes.

As Italy grapples with a surge in energy costs that was hurting firms and households even before the war in Ukraine, the government authorised preventative measures if the emergency should intensify.

These included "the reduction of gas consumption in power stations through the maximisation of production from other sources, on top of the contribution from renewable energy." read more

Draghi's office said the decree gave Italy's power grid company Terna (TRN.MI) "a series of tasks" to make possible the reduction of gas consumption, without going into detail.

($1 = 0.8898 euros)

Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Keith Weir

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