According to Ukrainian officials, Boris Johnson will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on an unexpected visit to Kyiv. The embassy of Ukraine in the United Kingdom shared a photo on Twitter of the two presidents seated across a table in Kiev, with their respective flags in the backdrop. The photo was tweeted by the embassy with the phrase “Surprise.”
The prime minister was using the unscheduled visit to lay out a new package of financial and military aid, according to a No 10 spokesperson. “In a demonstration of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the prime minister traveled to Ukraine to meet President Zelenskiy in person,” the spokeswoman added. “They’ll talk about the UK’s long-term support for Ukraine, and the PM will lay out a new package of financial and military aid,” says the statement.
Johnson’s visit to Kyiv might be viewed as a public relations coup for the prime minister, who has long wanted to visit Ukraine. After Russian soldiers withdrew from their forward positions on March 29, the security situation in the capital has stabilized. They fled to Belarus after abandoning the towns of Bucha and Hostomel north of Kyiv. Artillery strikes on the city have ceased since then. Emergency crews have been sweeping highways and roadsides for explosives and pulling smashed Russian armoured vehicles away.
Due to the impossibility of flying, Johnson will have driven to Kyiv, most likely from eastern Poland. The 600-kilometer road from the border passes through Lviv, Ukraine’s westernmost metropolis. Johnson will have seen blown-up Russian tanks by the side of the road on the outskirts of the capital, as well as humorous welcome posters painted by Ukrainians stating, “Russia, go fuck yourself.” Johnson is a famous figure in Kyiv after delivering important anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian army, the Swedish-made NLAW system. Zelenskiy has complimented the United Kingdom’s unwavering support on numerous occasions.
Senior politicians are increasingly making the journey. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, paid a visit on Friday with Josep Borrell, her deputy. Both countries condemned a Russian missile strike on a train stop in Kramatorsk, in eastern Russia. Before the invasion on 1 February, Johnson visited Kyiv and met with Zelenskiy at the Mariinsky Palace, the president’s official residence.
As soon as the “first Russian toecap” marched onto Ukrainian land, he declared, the UK will impose sanctions on Russia. He also warned that Russia’s armed forces posed a “clear and present danger,” which he properly did. Last month, it was reported that Johnson planned to visit Kyiv, but that UK security officers were concerned.
Conservative co-chair Oliver Dowden claimed at the time that the prime minister was “desperate to go to Ukraine” and had a “genuine emotional connection” with the Ukrainian people. Sources from Downing Street said at the time that a visit was unlikely. After a missile attack in Kramatorsk that killed at least 50 people, including five children, Zelenskiy called on Ukraine’s allies to give greater military aid and to tighten sanctions against Russia. Russia’s defense ministry denied any involvement.
Johnson’s visit coincided with the European Commission pledging €1 billion (£834 million) to support Ukraine and countries hosting migrants fleeing the conflict, according to Von der Leyen. “Six hundred million of those will go to Ukraine, to the Ukrainian authorities, and partially to the UN,” Von der Leyen said at a Warsaw fundraiser for Ukraine. “And €400 million will go to the frontline states that are doing such a fantastic job of assisting the incoming refugees.”