'I hope this isn't the last time you and I speak' - Zelenskyy’s words to Boris on night of Russian invasion

18 May 2023, 00:01 | Updated: 18 May 2023, 08:29

Guto Harri recounted the night Russia invaded Ukraine, and a solemn call between Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Guto Harri recounted the night Russia invaded Ukraine, and a solemn call between Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Picture: Getty

By Asher McShane

Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a sombre 4am call with Boris Johnson on the night of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, former No10 comms chief Guto Harri has revealed.

Speaking on his podcast Unprecedented, Mr Harri revealed Boris Johnson’s actions on the night Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine in February last year.

Mr Harri said: “It was about 4am, the phone's ringing, I'm grappling for it by the side of the bed, and I pick it up and it's the very calm voice of the military attaché for No.10, a man who in a previous life had commanded our Special Forces.

“He says, as if he's been up for days, 'I'm going to let the boss sleep because he's f***ed, but you need to know that the Russian troops have crossed the border. They're advancing on Kyiv. Our worst fears are underway.'

Listen and subscribe to Unprecedented: Inside Downing Street on Global Player

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari speaks with Guto Harri

“I was equally clear, 'Don't let him sleep. Wake him up now. He's going to want to be on this in a nanosecond.' And within five minutes, Boris was on the phone with President Zelenskyy with a few of us listening in.

He went on: “Zelenskyy was breathless. He was anxious, but very calm, considering what was underway. It was harrowing, it was haunting. He brought it alive to all of us. It was massively sobering.

“We really could not believe that this was seriously underway. A superpower advancing on a neighbour who had done nothing to provoke it. Boris could not have been clearer that we were there to help the Ukraine in whichever way we possibly could, using whatever we could possibly deploy within reason.

“But at that moment in time, I think it was a man-to-man thing where he was basically imagining himself in that bunker in his own capital city with foreign troops advancing on that city and his life at risk.

“I remember very clearly him saying, 'Are you okay? Are you, Volodymyr, okay? Do you have good people around you? Are you safe? Is there anything we can do to protect you?'

“And Volodymyr Zelenskyy was equally clear that he was okay. He had great people there, but he said to Boris, 'I'm okay, I've got good people, but you never know when Russian Special Forces are crawling all over your city.

“I just hope this is not the last time you and I speak.”

Read more: Boris Johnson called Macron 'Putin's lickspittle', ex No10 comms chief Guto Harri reveals

The comments come as Putin and Zelenskyy prepare meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine.

Cyril Ramaphosa said he had spoken with Mr Putin and Mr Zelenskyy by phone over the weekend and they each agreed to host "an African leaders peace mission" in Moscow and Kyiv respectively.

"Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in the Ukraine," Mr Ramaphosa said.

The leaders of Zambia, Senegal, Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Egypt would make up the delegation along with Mr Ramaphosa, he said in a statement, and Mr Putin and Mr Zelenskyy gave him the go-ahead to "commence the preparations".

Four of the African countries - South Africa, Republic of the Congo, Senegal and Uganda - abstained from a UN vote last year on condemning Russia's invasion. Zambia and Egypt voted in favour of the motion.

Mr Ramaphosa did not give a timeframe or outline any parameters for the possible peace talks. Mr Zelenskyy has previously said he would not consider a peace deal to end the 15-month war until Russian forces withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres was also briefed on the African delegation's planned meetings and "welcomed the initiative", Mr Ramaphosa said.

Neither the Kremlin nor Kyiv have responded to the idea of the peace talks.

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