Boris Johnson made a surprise trip to Kyiv on Friday for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during which the UK announced it would spearhead a training programme for thousands of Ukrainian troops.
In his second visit to Kyiv since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24, the UK prime minister announced that he would provide support to train up to 10,000 soldiers every four months.
Each soldier will spend three weeks learning battle skills, medical practice, cyber security and counter-explosive tactics. The training programme follows £1.3bn of British economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine, including anti-tank missiles and artillery.
In a joint video address with Zelenskyy from Kyiv, Johnson said: “We will be with you as we have since the beginning to provide the military equipment, and now, of course, the training that may be necessary to go with that new equipment.”
“So that you, the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian armed forces, will be able to do what I believe Ukrainians yearn to do. And that is to expel the aggressor from Ukraine,” Johnson added.
The prime minister said that two months after his first visit to Kyiv “the Ukrainian grit, determination and resilience is stronger than ever” and added that the “unbreakable resolve” would outlive the ambitions of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“We have a common view on how to move towards victory,” Zelenskyy said.
“In particular, we talked about the need to increase the supply of heavy weapons,” he added.
The Ukrainian president said Friday’s talks focused on defence and security in the south and east of the country, where Russia’s invading forces have occupied about 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory.
Zelenskyy said that both leaders spoke of Russia’s responsibility for food shortages, and the need to improve the supply of heavy arms to Ukraine, particularly noting the threat from missiles.
“The vast majority of Russian missile strikes are conducted by the Russian army on ordinary people, on civilian infrastructure — housing, schools, hospitals, universities, transport,” he said. “Obviously, this should be one of the priorities for all of us, for our partners — to help protect against Russian missiles. It will be a guarantee of life for people in most of our territory.”
Johnson and Zelenskyy also discussed security guarantees for Ukraine and efforts to rebuild the county following the invasion.
“Of course, we have to increase our co-operation for demining the territory of Ukraine. This direction also began to be discussed in detail,” the Ukrainian leader said. “And we are preparing . . . the process of rebuilding our state with practical steps. We have no doubt that we will win, so we are already preparing to rebuild the country after our victory.”
Johnson was due to appear at a conference of northern Conservative MPs on Friday before abruptly withdrawing to make the visit to Ukraine. Following private criticism from some MPs, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen tweeted that the Ukraine visit was “absolutely more important”.