UK PM Sunak makes surprise trip to Kyiv, boosts air defenses
Associated Press November 19, 2022
KYIV, Ukraine — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised 125 anti-aircraft guns and other air-defense technology as he made an unannounced visit Saturday — his first — to Ukraine's snow-blanketed war-time capital for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The air-defense package, which Britain valued at 50 million pounds ($60 million), comes as Russia has been pounding Ukraine's power grid and other key infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians amid frigid weather.
The package includes radar and other technology to counter Iran-supplied exploding drones that Russia has used against Ukrainian targets. It comes on top of a delivery of more than 1,000 anti-air missiles that Britain announced earlier this month.
The U.K. has been one of the staunchest Western supporters of Ukraine's resistance to Russia's invasion, giving Kyiv 2.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in military aid. Zelenskyy described the two countries as "the strongest of allies."
Video that Zelenskyy posted showed him greeting Sunak at a presidential palace as snowflakes fell and the two men holding talks.
"With friends like you by our side, we are confident in our victory. Both of our nations know what it means to stand up for freedom," the Ukrainian leader said on Twitter.
Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who stepped down in July amid ethics scandals, won wide praise in Ukraine for his backing and made repeated visits to Kyiv. Sunak is keen to reassure Ukraine's leaders that there will be no change of stance under his leadership, although when he was U.K. Treasury chief under Johnson he was considered resistant to demands for higher defense spending.
"The courage of the Ukrainian people is an inspiration to the world," Sunak said in comments alongside Zelenskyy in the presidential palace. "In years to come, we will tell our grandchildren of your story."
He pledged that Britain "will stand with you until Ukraine has won the peace and security it needs and deserves and then we will stand with you as you rebuild your great country."
Sunak also laid flowers at a memorial for the war dead, lit a candle at a memorial for victims of a deadly Soviet-era famine in Ukraine in the 1930s, and met first responders at a fire station, his office said.
Sunak said it was "deeply humbling" to visit Kyiv "and to have the opportunity to meet those who are doing so much, and paying so high a price, to defend the principles of sovereignty and democracy."
On the battlefield, Russian forces launched 10 airstrikes, 10 missile strikes and 42 rocket attacks on Ukraine in the last day, the General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces said Saturday.
Russia is pressing an offensive in the eastern Donetsk region, and Ukraine reported heavy fighting around the city of Bakhmut, town of Avdiivka and village of Novopavlivka.
Russian forces claimed to have repelled a Ukrainian counteroffensive to take back the settlements of Pershotravneve, Kyslivka and Krokhmalne in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv province.
Ukrainian forces said they killed or wounded scores of Russian soldiers during an attack on the village of Mykhailivka in the southern Kherson region, and the wounded were taken to hospitals in Crimea. The claim could not be independently verified.
Ukrainian forces also reported they conducted deadly strikes on the Kinburn Spit in Ukraine's southern Mykolaiv province, a key site for Russian electronic warfare.
Russia kept up its strikes on critical infrastructure, with a rocket attack overnight causing a fire at a key industrial facility in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region, according to the region's chief. Some areas in the regional capital of Zaporizhzhia were left without heating.
The head of Ukraine's biggest private energy firm told the BBC that Ukrainians who can afford it should consider leaving the country to relieve the pressure on its war-damaged power system.
"If they can find an alternative place to stay for another three or four months, it will be very helpful to the system," said Maxim Timchenko, chief executive of DTEK. "If you consume less, then hospitals with injured soldiers will have a guaranteed power supply."
In Poland, a funeral was held Saturday for one of the two men who died when a missile landed there this week, according to the state news agency PAP.
NATO member Poland and the head of the military alliance have both said that the missile strike in an eastern farming region appeared to be unintentional and was probably launched by air defenses in neighboring Ukraine. Russia had been bombarding Ukraine at the time in an attack that savaged its power grid.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense noted Saturday that Russia on Wednesday conducted its largest ever-debt issuance in a single day, raising $13.6 billion. It said debt issuance is a key mechanism to sustain defense spending, which has increased significantly in Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February.
Elise Morton in London contributed to this story.