Thursday, April 18

Johnson’s trip to Kyiv was planned in secret, blindsiding the world’s media | Ukraine


Boris Johnson embarked on his trip to Kyiv in utmost secrecy.

He arrived in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday without the world’s media realizing he was there until footage of him strolling the streets with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy emerged.

Only after he had returned to the UK did a Downing Street spokesman confirm that he had flown to Poland and then traveled by train via Ukrainian railways.

In a grainy video published by the railway service, the prime minister paid tribute to the transport workers for their bravery, before pausing for photos with them in a train carriage. “I gathered you’re called the iron people… I think it also reflects the spirit you’re showing and the spirit of Ukraine in standing up to the appalling aggression we’re seeing. We in the UK stand in sympathy and solidarity with you,” he said in the video message.

Johnson had been reported to be “desperate” to visit Kyiv for weeks, and he made it just one day after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, and the same morning as Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer.

It is understood the trip to Ukraine was supposed to be kept secret until the prime minister returned to the UK, but it was announced by the Ukrainian embassy in London in mid-afternoon on Saturday in a tweet saying “Surprise” and accompanied by a winking emoji.

Once in Kyiv on Saturday, his walk around the capital took him to Independence Square and past a monument to the “Heavenly Hundred” heroes who died in the pro-EU protests of 2014.

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Johnson also had a meeting with Zelenskiy, sitting alone across a large desk, where he pledged armored vehicles and anti-ship missile systems.

Appearing alongside Zelenskiy in a recorded broadcast clip, Johnson said the west would continue to “ratchet up” sanctions on Moscow as he praised the courage of the Ukrainian resistance.

“I think that the Ukrainians have shown the courage of a lion, and you Volodymyr have given the roar of that lion,” he said. “The UK and others [will] supply the equipment, the technology, the knowhow, the intelligence, so that Ukraine will never be invaded again.

“So Ukraine is so fortified and protected – that Ukraine can never be bullied again. Never be blackmailed again. Never be threatened in the same way again.”

The latest support package represents a significant stepping up of UK military assistance to Ukraine.

Johnson appeared to receive a warm welcome from the Ukrainian public, with footage of an encounter with one Ukrainian man praising Britain’s contribution to his country’s war effort. A woman gave Johnson and Zelenskiy ceramic cockerels – a symbol of Ukrainian defiance since a pottery rooster remained standing on a dresser after the Russian bombardment of Borodianka.

If there were any difficult moments in terms of security or his reception, these have not made their way into the public domain.

Zelenskiy’s chief diplomatic adviser said on Sunday the visit was “very timely and very important” in terms of the war. Igor Zhovkva told Sunday Morning on BBC One that the prime minister’s unannounced visit to the Ukrainian capital came at the invitation of Zelenskiy.

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“Any visit that is happening now to the Ukraine is done on the invitation of the president of the Ukraine. Prime Minister Johnson received this invitation and he agreed. It might be a surprise for you but it is not a surprise for us. We were preparing for a while. This visit was very timely and very important in terms of war,” he told the programme.

Photographs and footage of the visit were largely provided by the Ukrainian government press office as “handouts”. And the UK government would not say how many advisers or official photographers from Johnson’s own team had accompanied him.

The timing and means of his return is still being kept secret “for security reasons”, according to No 10. But by Sunday morning, the prime minister was back in the UK, and working from his country residence at Checkers.


www.theguardian.com

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