Rishi Sunak has travelled to Ukraine to meet its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and confirm a major new package of air defence for the war-torn country. The visit is Mr Sunak’s first since he became prime minister, and follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Boris Johnson, who developed a personal friendship with the Ukranian leader.
Mr Sunak told Mr Zelensky that Britain knows “what it means to fight for freedom” and would be with him and his citizens “all the way”.
The £50m package includes 125 anti-aircraft guns and technology to counter Iranian-supplied drones, No 10 said. It follows the provision of more than 1,000 new anti-air missiles, announced by the defence secretary earlier this month.
The UK is also bolstering its offer of training to Ukraine’s armed forces, including sending army medics and engineers to the region.
In the past week, Ukraine says Russia has carried out more than 148 missile strikes on critical infrastructure, leaving approximately 10 million people without power.
In Kyiv, the prime minister laid flowers at a war memorial and lit a candle for victims of the Holodomor famine in the 1930s, before meeting emergency responders at a fire station. There he heard of their work fighting fires and rescuing survivors from the rubble after Russian airstrikes and mortar attacks.
Mr Sunak’s pledge marks a continuation of the supportive stance adopted by Mr Johnson, and by Liz Truss during her short time in Downing Street.
By the end of his time in office, Mr Johnson was much mocked amid claims that he would use official phone calls with the Ukranian leader to attempt to shore up his own popularity at home.
Earlier this week, Mr Sunak spoke at the G20 summit in Bali, urging other world leaders to take a harder line against Russian aggression. He said the UK would continue to support Ukrainians to defend themselves, and would help to ensure that Kyiv is in a position of strength when it decides the time is right for peace talks.
He told reporters travelling with him to Bali that it was “telling” that the Russin leader Vladimir Putin had skipped the summit of world leaders.
“Russia is becoming a pariah state, and he’s not there to take responsibility for what he’s doing,” he said. “But I’m going to use the opportunity to put on the record my condemnation of what they’re doing.”
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said his party welcomed the promise of extra support to be provided to Ukraine. The Labour MP tweeted: “Welcome this UK help with further firepower to help defend Ukraine against Russia’s brutal missile and drone attacks. The Government continues to have Labour’s fullest backing to support Ukraine, reinforce Nato allies and confront Russia’s aggression.”