VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY: As the battles raged, the PM came to Kyiv with messages of hope. We even gave him a Ukrainian name – Boris Johnsoniuk
The United Kingdom has been a consistent supporter of Ukraine since the first days of our independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
You were with us at every stage of our transformation into a truly democratic state. You helped us to show the whole world that successful transition of a large, post-Soviet nation is not just possible, but desirable if you want to have a systemic effect on the whole region.
Unfortunately, it was duly noted in Russia, too. The Kremlin decided to act fast before its own people got the message that they can also elect their leaders and decide on their own how to rule their own nation.
In 2014, the illegal Russian occupation of Crimea and eastern parts of Ukraine was meant as a harsh lesson – and last warning – to Ukraine’s government in Kyiv. But it did not push stubborn Ukrainians from their path towards the West.
In late February, all pretence was removed when Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to bombard peaceful Ukrainian cities. Russian troops marched over the border on February 24, their parade uniforms neatly folded in their bags in anticipation of a quick victory.
To most nations, this came as a great shock. But not to the UK. Your Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, acted swiftly and resolutely – just as the British Government had done prior to this war. Before fully-fledged conflict erupted, Her Majesty’s Government allocated £1.7 billion to the Ukrainian government for our navy, for the construction of naval bases, as well as the package of security assistance and weapons, while RAF transport planes delivered thousands of modern anti-tank missiles to us.
I am proud to say that during this difficult time the UK has stood shoulder to shoulder with us, as the dearest friend and closest ally. (Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv last month)
PM Johnson paid a visit to Kyiv in early February. Our frank, open discussion was reinforced immediately by the first shipments of anti-tank missiles. Those weapons would play their part in halting the advance of the seemingly endless Russian armoured columns.
Just days before the invasion, we met in Munich where we agreed common steps on further reinforcing Ukraine’s defence capabilities.
Early in the morning on the day of Russia’s invasion, Boris was among the first world leaders I had a conversation with. Later, such phone calls became regular, providing us with better co-ordination of international actions aimed at combating Russian aggression.
At each and every meeting and conversation between us, Boris had one very good question: What else? What else do you need?
It became our watchword, guaranteeing effective progress. Believe me, not many politicians are ready to do this.
I know it has not been an easy ride for Boris Johnson as he had to deal with many internal challenges. Prioritising support for Ukraine demanded great courage and determination. (Pictured: Boris Johnson looking at his name inscribed in an avenue in Kyiv honouring those who have supported Ukraine since Russia’s invasion)
Political support from the British Government has since been unwavering: financial assistance along with humanitarian aid and more weapons of a sophisticated nature. Our military training programmes have been sharpened to meet immediate needs and the number of trainees multiplied.
At the same time, widespread sanctions have nailed down the Russian economy.
The UK, along with the US, is now established as one of Ukraine’s most important allies.
But it is not only your Government: your whole nation clearly saw the unjust and cruel nature of Putin’s war. All British political parties, your media, businesses, local councils and individuals have thrown their support behind us.
The sheer number of charitable donations have put much bigger nations to shame, while thousands of caring Britons opened up their hearts and homes to allow more than a 100,000 Ukrainian women and children to find refuge in the UK. That has helped many of our soldiers to fight on without worrying about their families.
Last month, Ukraine celebrated the 31st anniversary of our independence. Again, Boris Johnson was with us, welcomed by ordinary Ukrainians. (Pictured on Ukraine’s independence day on August 24)
In April, as battles continued to rage and ignoring personal security concerns, your Prime Minister arrived in Kyiv again, bringing a message: You are not alone in this fight, we will back you!
Our walk on Khreshchatyk Street was a milestone in my country’s history because it showed to the world that Kyiv was alive and that we would prevail.
Last month, Ukraine celebrated the 31st anniversary of our independence. Again, Boris Johnson was with us, welcomed by ordinary Ukrainians. We even started to address him, warmly and humorously, as ‘Boris Johnsoniuk’ – a Ukrainian sounding surname if you put a stress on the last syllable – inspired by his Instagram account @borisjohnsonuk.
Our Independence Day on August 24 coincided with marking six months since the start of the war with Russia. No one can deny that these months have been the most dramatic in the recent history of Ukraine. On the scale of human suffering, it is very similar to the Nazi occupation or to Stalin’s forced famine of 1932/33 – Holodomor.
PM Johnson paid a visit to Kyiv in early February (pictured). Our frank, open discussion was reinforced immediately by the first shipments of anti-tank missiles
I am proud to say again that during this difficult time the UK has stood shoulder to shoulder with us, as the dearest friend and closest ally. As president, I realise that the policy and actions of the Government embody the public will.
I am impressed by the number of Ukrainian flags flying high and proudly throughout the United Kingdom to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine and Ukrainians.
I am deeply encouraged by the unanimity and cohesion of all political parties in the British Parliament in support of Ukraine. People in the UK should know that every day of struggle for their very existence, Ukrainians are immensely grateful to your country.
But I also believe in the power of personal leadership. I know it has not been an easy ride for Boris Johnson as he had to deal with many internal challenges. Prioritising support for Ukraine demanded great courage and determination.
The Ukrainian government has also worked closely and effectively with the UK Government and Ministers at all levels in recent months.
I am impressed by the number of Ukrainian flags flying high and proudly throughout the United Kingdom to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine and Ukrainians
Among them, I am most grateful to two other great leaders and friends of Ukraine – Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, and Ben Wallace, your Defence Secretary. They spearheaded the efforts of their respective departments and services, helping to build resilience and support for Ukraine around the globe.
In a few days, the UK will have a new Prime Minister. As Ukraine’s President, I will be happy to establish close relations with, as Boris Johnson recently said, ‘any British Prime Minister, male or female’.
I sincerely hope that Boris’s legacy in this fight against Russian barbarism will be preserved.
We will continue to fight on because we do not have any other option. It is our lives and our future at stake. And we still need the UK’s support and leadership.
We need it because we are a young, peace-loving democracy – far from perfect, but on the right track.
We need it because we made one of the most valuable contributions to global security by abandoning our huge nuclear stockpiles.
We need it because by helping Ukraine to win this war the UK is protecting the international order and the existing security balance in the European and Atlantic region.
I sincerely hope that Boris’s legacy in this fight against Russian barbarism will be preserved (Pictured: Boris Johnson receiving The Order of Liberty Medal on Ukraine’s Independence Day)
We need it because it is vital for a free world to show dictators that any aggression will generate a strong collective response.
And, finally, we need it because making a stand against evil is simply the right thing to do.
The 19th Century Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, called upon his people to keep fighting against Russians: ‘Fight and you will prevail.’ Back then, we did not have powerful friends on our side.
This time I have no doubt that Ukraine will succeed.
That together with the UK we will make our world a safer place. And that our nations will grow even closer.
As true friends. Just like me and my friend, Boris.
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