Ukraine's Zelenskyy thanks Britain for support in person, makes another push for fighter jets

Britain, one of the biggest contributors of aid to Ukraine, recently committed to sending tanks

Wednesday - 08/02/2023 09:59 Author: Editors Desk Source: CBC News:

Two men are shown on a tarmac near a plane, one in a sweatshirt, the other in a suit.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after his arrival in Stansted, Britain, on Wednesday morning. (Ukrainian Presidential Service/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the British people on Wednesday for their support since "Day One" of Russia's invasion, and made another plea for fighter jets that he said would help ensure Ukraine's victory in the war.

Zelenskyy's first visit to Britain since Russia launched its attack in February 2022 comes as Kyiv braces for an expected Russian offensive and hatches its own plans to retake land held by Moscow's forces.

Hundreds of lawmakers and parliamentary staff packed the 900-year-old Westminster Hall for Zelenskyy's speech. He said he was speaking on behalf of the brave people of his own country, and he thanked Britons for their bravery.

"We know Russia will lose and we we know victory will change the world," he said.

Zelenskyy arrived on a Royal Air Force plane at London Stansted airport north of the U.K. capital, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted him on the tarmac. Sunak is already the third British prime minister Zelenskyy has consulted with since the invasion, with predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss also among the assembled at Westminster.

Zelenskyy was also meeting with King Charles III and U.K. military chiefs.

The U.K. is one of the biggest military backers of Ukraine and has sent the country more than 2 billion pounds ($3.2 billion Cdn) in weapons and equipment.

A man hands an older man a white helmet, near a lectern.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, left, House of Commons Speaker, holds the helmet of a Ukrainian pilot presented to him by Zelenskyy on Wednesday at Westminster Hall in central London. (Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 10,000 Ukrainian troops have also been trained at bases in the U.K., some on the Challenger 2 tanks that Britain is sending.

The visit comes as Sunak announced that Britain will train Ukrainian pilots on "NATO-standard fighter jets."

"I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future," Sunak said. "It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come."

Ukraine has urged its allies to send jets, though Britain says it's not practical to provide the Ukrainian military with British warplanes, indicating the training takes not months, but years.

Nevertheless, Zelenskyy again made the request, equating fighter jets with "wings of freedom."

Britain hits Russia with more sanctions

Coinciding with the visit, the U.K. government announced a new round of sanctions against six entities that the U.K. said supplied equipment to the Russian military. CST, a manufacturer of Russian drones and parts for helicopters used against Ukraine, was among those sanctioned. Others targeted included five individuals linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin's luxury residences.

Zelenskyy addressed Parliament remotely last year, two weeks after the start of the invasion, where he echoed British leader Winston Churchill's famous "never surrender" speech during the Second World War.

A destroyed bridge over a body of water is shown.
A bus drives past a destroyed bridge in Irpin, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Irpin, a town outside of Kyiv, was turned into a battlefield early in Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine, as Russian forces made a failed attempt at seizing the capital. (Roman Pilipey/Getty Images)

It is Zelenskyy's second known trip abroad, after addressing Congress in Washington, D.C., in December.

Zelenskyy may be seeking Western pledges of more advanced weapons before potential spring offensives by both Russia and Ukraine.

Leaders from 27-nation European Union will be gathering for a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Officials hoped that the Ukrainian leader might also make his first visit to EU institutions since the war began.

Zelenskyy has often addressed EU summits only through video calls from Ukraine.

Deadly shelling attacks continue in Ukraine

The London visit came as Russian forces blasted areas of eastern Ukraine with more artillery bombardments, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday, in what Kyiv authorities believe is part of a new thrust by the Kremlin's forces before the invasion anniversary.

Russian forces over the past day launched major shelling attacks on areas near the front line in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region, killing a 74-year-old woman and wounding a 16-year-old girl in the border town of Vovchansk, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said.

Russian forces in Ukraine are focusing their efforts on "waging a counteroffensive" in the country's industrial east, with the aim of taking full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbas, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.

A woman with a sad look on her face touches a cross at a cemetery.
Natalya cries at the grave of her brother, Oleg Kunynets, a Ukrainian military serviceman who was killed in the east of the country, at a funeral held in Lviv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Emilio Morenatti/The Associated Press)

Russian troops launched assaults near Bakhmut and Vuhledar, two mining towns in the Donetsk region that have been among Moscow's key targets, Ukrainian officials said.

Seizing Bakhmut could severely disrupt Ukraine's military supply routes. It would also open a door for Moscow's forces to drive toward key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

Ukrainian authorities say the Kremlin's goal is to take full control of the Donbas, an expansive industrial area bordering Russia. That would give Putin a major battlefield success after months of setbacks and help him rally public opinion behind the war.

Military analysts say that after a Ukrainian counteroffensive that started last summer and recaptured large areas from Russia, the war has been largely static in recent months.

Russia is now also trying to break through Ukrainian lines near the towns of Avdiivka and Marinka in Donetsk, as well as near Kreminna, a front-line town in the Luhansk region that lies along a key Russian supply route, the Ukrainian General Staff said.


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