'Be brave, like Boris': Zelenskyy praises PM during secret trip to Kyiv

9 April 2022, 15:12 | Updated: 9 April 2022, 22:04

Boris met Zelenskyy in Kyiv today in an unannounced trip
Boris met Zelenskyy in Kyiv today in an unannounced trip. Picture: Twitter

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has met with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy today in an unannounced visit to the war torn capital of Kyiv.

The Prime Minister, who had previously asked to travel to the capital to meet him in person, was pictured sitting opposite the president in a photo released on social media.

Security officials had raised concerns in the past about whether Mr Johnson could safely visit, but since then the Russian forces that were approaching Kyiv have been withdrawn after failing in their task.

A picture of the two meeting over a table was shared by the Twitter account of Ukraine's embassy to the UK on Saturday next to the caption "Surprise" with a winking face emoji.

In a separate social media post, Mr Johnson shared an image of the two leaders shaking hands writing: "Today I met my friend President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv as a show of our unwavering support for the people of Ukraine.

"We're setting out a new package of financial and military aid which is a testament of our commitment to his country's struggle against Russia’s barbaric campaign."

During today's talks, the Prime Minister set out new military assistance of 120 armoured vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems, in addition to the £100 million worth of high-grade military equipment announced yesterday.

It will include more Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, another 800 anti-tank missiles, and high-tech loitering munitions for precision strikes.

Boris Johnson also confirmed further economic support, guaranteeing an additional £385m in World Bank lending to Ukraine, taking the UK total loan guarantee to up to $1 billion.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement: "It is a privilege to be able to travel to Ukraine and meet President Zelenskyy in person in Kyiv today.

"Ukraine has defied the odds and pushed back Russian forces from the gates of Kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century.

"It is because of President Zelenskyy’s resolute leadership and the invincible heroism and courage of the Ukrainian people that Putin’s monstrous aims are being thwarted.

"I made clear today that the United Kingdom stands unwaveringly with them in this ongoing fight, and we are in it for the long run.

"We are stepping up our own military and economic support and convening a global alliance to bring this tragedy to an end, and ensure Ukraine survives and thrives as a free and sovereign nation."

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian parliament tweeted: "We welcome Boris Johnson in Kyiv, the first G7 leader to arrive in Ukraine since the beginning of the large-scale war.

"We are strengthening our union of democracies. Be brave, like Boris. Be brave, like Ukraine."

A Downing Street spokesperson added: "The Prime Minister has travelled to Ukraine to meet President Zelenskyy in person, in a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

"They will discuss the UK’s long term support to Ukraine and the PM will set out a new package of financial and military aid."

Mr Johnson's visit makes him the first G7 leader to visit Kyiv since war broke out, and follows European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's and the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell's trip on Friday and the visit of the Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer earlier on Saturday.

The PM previously revealed he was keen to visit the besieged capital but security officials were said to be "having kittens" at the idea.

"If you set aside the security concerns, which are considerable, the question is whether there is anything additional you could achieve by visiting in person, or whether it would just be a show of solidarity, and whether that is a sufficient goal in itself," a source previously told the Daily Mail.

Read more: UK sends 23-ton war vehicles to Ukraine as Russia 'thwarted' in Crimean land bridge plan

Oliver Dowden previously said the Prime Minister was "desperate" to visit war torn Ukraine to experience "what is happening on the ground" and show solidarity with the country.

Speaking on Tonight with Andrew Marr the Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party defended Boris Johnson's comparison of the conflict to Brexit, instead insisting the PM has felt a "real emotional connection" to the suffering of Ukrainian people.

When quizzed by Andrew Marr on whether the PM would visit the country, the cabinet minister said: "Well I think the Prime Minister is desperate to go to Ukraine and has throughout this conflict a real, as British people have done, a real emotional connection with the suffering of the Ukrainian people and the need for the West to unite in standing up to this threat from Russia which has been exposed in Ukraine.

"And actually for example with the Bazookas that are currently being fired in Ukraine, people are saying god save the Queen, because they know it was the British that were leading that effort and doing so."

Asked why Mr Johnson would want to visit the country, he replied: "I think its both to see what is going on on the ground, it is very different talking to someone on the phone versus actually seeing it in practice, and by the way that no decisions have been taken in relation to this, but secondly its actually to experience what is happening there, to see what is happening on the ground which is very different to just speaking remotely."

During a nightly address to the nation on Friday, Mr Zelensky's voice rose in anger, when he said the strike on the Kramatorsk train station, where 4,000 people were trying to flee a looming Russian offensive in the east, amounted to another war crime.

Dozens of people were severely injured in the strike and at least 52 people died, included children.

The attack came as workers elsewhere in the country unearthed bodies from a mass grave in Bucha, a town near Kyiv, where graphic evidence of dozens of killings emerged following the withdrawal of Russian forces.

"Like the massacres in Bucha, like many other Russian war crimes, the missile attack on Kramatorsk should be one of the charges at the tribunal that must be held," Mr Zelensky said.

After failing to take Kyiv in the face of stiff resistance, Russian forces have set their sights on the eastern Donbas region, the mostly Russian-speaking, industrial area where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years and control some places.

Although the train station is in Ukrainian government-controlled territory in the Donbas, Russia accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack, as did the region's Moscow-backed separatists who work closely with Russian troops.

Western experts, however, dismissed Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov's assertion that Russian forces "do not use" that type of missile.

A Western official said Russia's forces have used the missile - and that given the strike's location and impact, it was likely Russia's.