Boris Johnson travels to Ukraine to mark its Independence Day

British leader calls on the international community to stay the course in Kyiv's war with Russia

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the “strong will of Ukrainians to resist” Russia's invasion during a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, his third since Moscow invaded its neighbour in February.

The departing UK Prime Minister travelled to Ukraine's capital as the nation celebrated Independence Day and marked the milestone of six months of war.

“There's a strong will of Ukrainians to resist,” Mr Johnson said. “And that is what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin failed to understand. You defend your right to live in peace, in freedom and that's why Ukraine will win.

“What happens in Ukraine matters to us all, which is why I am here today to deliver the message that the United Kingdom is with you and will be with you for the days and months ahead.”

Mr Johnson won praise from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for leading the West’s tough response to Russia and the pair held talks on the challenges of the winter ahead for the country. Mr Johnson reinforced the UK’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people, from humanitarian aid to supporting the investigation of war crimes and rebuilding the country’s economy.

Since Russian tanks rolled across the border with Ukraine in February, Mr Johnson had made two previous unannounced trips to Kyiv.

When Mr Jonson made his resignation speech outside No 10 Downing Street on July 7, Mr Zelenskyy expressed his “sadness” and praised the British leader's “personal leadership and charisma” in enhancing the UK-Ukrainian relationship.

The six-month point of the invasion fell on Ukraine’s Independence Day on Wednesday — a national holiday to celebrate the country becoming an independent state after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In a statement to mark the occasion, Mr Johnson said although Ukrainian independence was being threatened once again, the UK would continue to stand with Kyiv in the face of Russian aggression, “however long it takes”.

“I’m delighted to offer my congratulations on the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence and to remember that amazing day in 1991 when Ukrainians celebrated in the streets as their country was reborn as a sovereign state,” he said.

“But alas, today, Ukraine’s independence is threatened once again, and her people are fighting with steel and with courage to defend their homes and their families and to preserve their right to decide their own destiny in their own country.

“I have never doubted for a moment that Ukraine is going to win this struggle because no force on Earth can overcome the patriotism of 44 million Ukrainians.”

Mr Johnson said one day Ukraine would “achieve victory” in their struggle for self-determination and Britain would then be “even prouder” of its friendship with the country.

Sanctions against those with strong links to Putin

What exactly did Mr Johnson do to warrant such a glowing review from his Ukrainian counterpart?

The UK government was quick to announce sanctions against various people and companies said to have benefited from links to the Kremlin.

Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich was among the oligarchs and members of Mr Putin’s inner circle to be slapped with asset freezes and travel bans.

The businessman — who is believed to own a 15-bedroom mansion in Kensington, West London — in May sold Chelsea Football Club, which he had bought in 2003 for £140 million ($165m).

Mr Johnson said there could “be no safe havens” for supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that sanctions were only one part of the UK government's “ruthless pursuit” of those assisting in Moscow's assault.

Weapons and military training

The UK has committed £2.3 billion in weapons to Ukraine, making it the second-largest donor after the US.

In addition to thousands of anti-tank weapons, including Javelins, Brimstone and NLAWs (Next generation light Anti-tank weapons), it has shipped artillery rounds, missiles and Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak surface-to-air missile launchers.

Non-lethal aid — including more than 80,000 helmets, 5,000 night vision devices and thousands of sets of body armour — has also been sent.

Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train with an NLAW anti-tank weapon in Kyiv. AP

Britain is also hosting a programme with the aim of training 10,000 new and existing Ukrainian personnel.

More weapons donations appear to be in the pipeline, as Mr Zelenskyy’s office last week suggested.

Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak and Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi held a phone call with UK Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin and Stephen Lovegrove, UK national security adviser, an official said.

They discussed “in detail” further potential aid to Kyiv, said the official.

Sanctuary for refugees

The UK responded to the mass exodus of Ukrainians from their homeland by introducing the Homes for Ukrainians scheme. It allows people fleeing the invasion to seek refuge in the UK and anyone without family ties can be sponsored by a person who offers them a home for at least six months.

Each household housing a refugee under the programme is eligible to receive £350 a month, tax-free.

Visits to Kyiv

Mr Johnson's first post-invasion visit to Kyiv was in April, only a week after Russian troops pulled back from the villages and towns surrounding the Ukrainian capital, in a humiliating U-turn for Moscow.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Mr Zelenskyy said Mr Johnson’s trip was a “true reflection of the decisive and significant support to Ukraine from the United Kingdom”, which he said Ukrainians would “always remember”.

In June, Mr Johnson arrived in Kyiv for the second time, this time with a gift.

The British leader signed a copy of Robert Hardman’s book Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II during a meeting in Mr Zelenskyy’s office, before presenting it to him.

Mr Zelenskyy appeared to be a fan of the UK’s longest-reigning monarch, as footage from the meeting showed him leafing through the book and thanking his guest.

Ukraine's Independence Day celebrated in the UK - in pictures

Updated: August 24, 2022, 3:18 PM
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